What It Takes to Manage Leadership Change in the Nonprofit Sector

December 05, 2019

ChangesEvery organization experiences leadership change. But these days, the nonprofit sector is experiencing a big demographic shift. Which is why it's essential for all nonprofits to start planning for the kind of thoughtful leadership transitions —including those resulting from both expected and sudden departures — any organization needs to survive and thrive.

According to the 2017 BoardSource report Leading With Intent, only 27 percent of nonprofits have a formal succession plan in place. That's unfortunate, because having such a plan in place can help any organization overcome the challenges and bumps in the road that almost always pop up in the wake of a leadership transition.

In the past, the process was commonly referred to "succession planning." However, that term often refers to identifying a successor for a specific leader and, in our view, has outgrown its usefulness. It's more helpful, instead, to think about the work of preparing for and managing leadership change as "intentional pathway planning," a more expansive term that serves as a reminder that leadership change involves much more than thinking about a single role or person; it's a holistic approach and lens that should be applied to every step of the hiring and onboarding process.

While every organization’s circumstances are different (involving things like leadership configuration, organizational goals, skills gaps, etc.), all nonprofits would be well-served to take a proactive approach to building a strong leadership pipeline, developing internal talent for higher-level roles, and making themselves aware of specific knowledge and/or diversity gaps that need to be addressed.

Tips for successful intentional pathway planning include:

Consider the big picture. A critical first step in intentional pathway planning is to understand your organization's leadership needs and mission-focused objectives. What are you trying to do? What type of talent will you need to get there? What are your organization’s knowledge gaps, and how can they be filled?

Plan and train. To ensure there's a robust pipeline of talent available to take advantage of future leadership opportunities, you need to proactively take steps to support talent. Provide employees with ample training and development opportunities — as well as continual mentoring and coaching — to help them learn, grow, and thrive. Check in with individual employees about their goals and aspirations, and then tailor development plans for them as appropriate. To ensure you have a deep bench of future leaders, allow staff at various levels to flex their leadership skills — and assume additional responsibilities. Such an approach is just as beneficial for the organization as it is for individuals on the receiving end of these training opportunities and can be pitched to job candidates as an organizational value proposition.

Look internally first. There are significant benefits to promoting from within, including capturing institutional knowledge, boosting team morale, and increasing employee engagement and retention. It's also less expensive and time-consuming to promote from within.

Know when to look externally. Be mindful about your talent needs and recognize that you might not have the skill sets, experience, diversity, or other key attributes needed to fill certain roles in the organization — in other words, there may be valid reasons to conduct an external search. It can be valuable to bring in outside perspectives and skills, especially if you are trying to address knowledge gaps on your internal team. And if your existing team lacks diversity, now would be a good time to do something about it.  Just make sure you're ready to support people from diverse backgrounds as they are onboarded and begin to acculturate to your environment.

Use consistent systems. We are firm believers in the consistent use of performance management processes to capture personnel assessments and track professional development opportunities. Tools such as StrengthsFinder make it easier to assess the strengths (and weaknesses) of your leadership team, identify where knowledge gaps exist, and train people to fill those gaps.

Prioritize staff development. Healthy, sustainable organizations tend to excel at "growing" leaders and retaining their best talent. Make sure that someone on your leadership team is tasked with championing your pipeline development efforts and has the authority to embed it in the organization’s strategic priorities and budget. Recognize, too, that this needs to be an ongoing effort and remain a priority, even when other tasks and initiatives beckon.

Emphasize where DEI meets pathway planning. In the twenty-first century, it's imperative for organizations to embrace a culture of diversity with respect to race, gender, age, experience, perspective, and so forth. The first step in doing that is to identify and celebrate the various skills, competencies, perspectives, and backgrounds already present on your team. Then take steps to augment those skills and perspectives with external hires that enhance your diversity goals. Among other things, that means making sure a diverse group of candidates is considered for every promotion and leadership opportunity that arises.

Customize your plans. Recognize that your pathway planning needs to address future departures at multiple levels, including president/executive director, senior management roles (e.g., development director, major gifts officer, public affairs director, etc.) as well as board members. Because each of these positions requires different skills, experience, and so on, you'll need to develop specific plans to address each possible vacancy scenario.

Expect the unexpected. In a perfect scenario, your executive director will give the board plenty of notice about their planned departure date and will be willing to help select and train their successor. Unfortunately, departures of key leaders sometimes happen abruptly or unexpectedly (due to health issues, family emergencies, or other reasons). If your organization has a thoughtful plan in place, it should provide the kind of guidance an interim director will need during a difficult, tumultuous, and possibly emotional leadership change. If possible, take the time (with the help of the board) to develop an emergency transition plan that spells out the delegation of duties and authority (even temporarily) in the event of an unexpected transition or interruption in leadership.

Consider your organization's biggest challenges. Identify the current — and potential — challenges your organization faces (or is likely to face in the future). What type of leader will best be able to help the organization overcome these challenges, navigate obstacles, and meet its goals and objectives? What skills, qualities, and personality traits does this individual need to possess? What leadership qualities does your organization most need to bring about positive change?

Communicate wisely. Include a communications plan in your transition plans. While the circumstances of the transition will dictate the specific messages around it, you'll need to communicate any leadership change to internal and external audiences. Identify possible spokespeople, and make sure they're aware of — and comfortable with — their roles. Develop a list of key stakeholders that will need to be in the loop (e.g., board members, major donors, key staff, media, etc.). Recognize that you need to be thoughtful, clear, and concise with your messaging and its delivery.

Leadership transitions — especially when they're unexpected — can leave an organization vulnerable. It's essential to be prepared for a variety of scenarios and have plans in place to manage any change in leadership, regardless of the circumstance. BoardSource’s research shows that most organizations don’t have a formal transition plan in place. Make sure your organization does.

Headshot_miecha_forbes_KoyaMiecha Ranea Forbes is senior vice president of Culture, Inclusion & Strategic Advising at Koya Leadership Partners, an executive search and strategic advising firm guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world.

We Must Act Now to End Students’ Basic Needs Insecurity — Together

December 03, 2019

Food insecurity on campusAs hundreds of thousands of students scramble to submit their college applications, many are thinking beyond the daunting cost of tuition and student fees to how they will pay for their everyday necessities once they've arrived on campus. With nearly half of college students at two- and four-year institutions experiencing food insecurity and more than half struggling with housing insecurity, it goes without saying that gaps in basic-needs provision are a major issue impacting today's college students — one that requires a systemic solution.

Examples of expenses that can derail a student's progression to a degree include emergency car repairs, rent increases, or a sudden illness. Such needs and emergencies often can be addressed, however, by immediate direct supports, including emergency-aid grants, food pantries, rapid rehousing services, and campus partnerships with community and government agencies aimed at ensuring students are supported throughout their academic journey.

Colleges are well positioned to be points of entry to a coordinated suite of social services for students. Working in tandem with community and government partners, colleges can use their own resources and design more student-centered services to cover students’ basic needs and keep them on track to their degrees.

For instance, in Washington state, the United Way of King County is working in partnership with local colleges to develop on-campus Benefits Hubs, which are designed to connect students to public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as community partners that can provide immediate resources and financial assistance for housing-related emergencies.

Holistic support provided by colleges and community-based programs also can play a critical role in providing students with a pathway out of their basic-needs challenges. The Southern Scholarship Foundation in Florida works with universities and colleges across the state to provide rent-free housing to postsecondary students who demonstrate academic merit and financial need. Having a secure and safe place to return to after school and work is essential for student well-being and academic success and can be the difference between a student graduating or dropping out.

There's no one-size-fits-all in terms of helping today’s college students — many of whom no longer match the traditional description of the 18- to 24-year-old seeking a four-year degree right out of high school. Today’s students are more likely to be over 25 and the first in their family to attend college. Many also often face competing demands for their time, including work and family responsibilities.

Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that while the population of single-mother students has increased significantly over the years, only 28 percent of single moms who enroll in college will graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 40 percent of married mothers and 57 percent of female students who are not parents. The disparity often is due to the very real challenge of supporting a family, juggling work, and completing coursework. IWPR found that providing students with parent support services, including childcare, goes a long way to helping single moms succeed.

Colleges and universities alone cannot fix the problem. It will take a movement to address students' multifaceted needs and safeguard postsecondary education as a public good. And it will require action and collective investment involving multiple sectors, including institutions of higher education, government, community-based organizations, and research and philanthropic entities.

In October, California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law sweeping legislation designed to increase the allocation of funding for emergency-aid grants for community college students in the state, in addition to approving $19 million to address homelessness among students across the state’s community college, California State University, and University of California systems. Both policy actions expand support for students who may otherwise be at risk of dropping out due to financial emergencies and basic-needs challenges. Other states could emulate California and help their most vulnerable students overcome these types of life crises so that they persist through school and graduate with a degree.

Last month, ECMC Foundation launched the Basic Needs Initiative, a $3 million effort to pilot, evaluate, and scale programs aimed at stemming the tide of basic-needs insecurity among college students. Through a national cohort of seven organizations and institutions working with two- and four-year institutions, we will spend the next three years working with grantees to address basic needs issues among students, with a focus on food, housing, child care, mental health, emergency financial assistance, and transportation.

But we can't stop there.

We need others to invest in organizations working to address basic-needs insecurity. We need holistic approaches aimed at increasing academic persistence and graduation rates for the most vulnerable students on campus. And we need to work to eliminate basic-needs insecurity as an issue so that students who complete a bachelor's degree reap the return on investment and the social mobility that comes with it.

Sarah_belnick_for_PhilanTopicTogether, we can reduce basic-needs insecurity for students, today and into the future.

Sarah Belnick is senior program director for College Success at ECMC Foundation, a national foundation working to improve postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds.

 

Garifuna and the 2020 Census

December 02, 2019

Garifuna300Gilberto Amaya's career in international development has taken him to more than thirty countries, where he has implemented renewable energy systems, agribusiness projects, and poverty alleviation initiatives. Along the way, he witnessed the post-independence struggles of sovereign states whose names are rarely heard on nightly newscasts in the U.S. — Burkina Faso, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe. A native of Honduras, he has memories of blending into and being welcomed by communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Central and South America.

Yet, near his home in Fairfax, Virginia, a bureaucracy momentarily stripped him of his identity — and incident that sparked Amaya's quest to have "Garifuna" fully recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"After conducting some public business at a government agency in Virginia," Amaya recalled, "I was leaving the counter, and the Latina clerk heard me speaking Spanish to my wife and called me back."

For ethnicity, Amaya had checked the box next to "black."

"You checked the wrong box," the clerk said. "You can't check black. You speak Spanish. You have to check Hispanic.' "

Today, Amaya is a member of the Census Bureau's National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC), which solicits recommendations on ways to improve the accuracy of the decennial count in determining ethnic minorities, and is allied with other Garifuna organizations, scholars, and Afro-Latino advocates working to document the heritage and raise the visibility of the Garifuna people.

The Garifuna are descendants of Africans of mixed tribal ancestry who were captured and shipped from Africa to the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Garifuna historians recount on-board insurrections that ran ships aground. The captives escaped inland and intermarried with indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians, who were also subject to forced-labor bondage. Sometimes referred to as the Black Caribs, the Garifuna led and participated in the unsuccessful Carib Wars aimed at overthrowing British dominion, sometimes with assistance of France, England's imperial rival.

Although slavery had been banned in England by the late 1700s, the slave trade continued in the Americas. Given public outrage and the growing political strength of the abolition movement, the British demurred, in the Caribbean, from wholesale execution of prisoners deemed guilty of armed resistance. Although many Garifuna died after being captured, others were transported seventeen hundred miles to the west and abandoned to their fate.

"They put more than two thousand people on ships and transported them across the Caribbean to the Bay Islands of Honduras," Amaya explains. "That's where the Garifuna people first landed in Central America. And after their arrival on the coast, they eventually moved north and west to the rest of Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize, as well as south into Nicaragua. Through migration, some large communities also were established in the U.S., for example in the South Bronx."

Amaya says New York's Garifuna population is America's largest, numbering between 70,000 to 100,000. "But that is only an estimate because we don't really show up in decennial census data." Garifuna can also be found in Houston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, both in the U.S. and abroad, albeit in smaller numbers.

The Garifuna are not new arrivals to the United States. "Migration is in our people's DNA," Amaya says. "The earliest Garifuna migration to the U.S. was after World War II, when we were recruited to work on the merchant marine ships supplying Europe during the war against the Axis powers. Garifuna weren't conscripted into the U.S. military, but many chose to remain in America after the war and never returned home. They sent for their families to join them."

Education was Amaya's path to the United States. He grew up on the Honduran coast, an outstanding student who became the first Garifuna to graduate with a degree in industrial-mechanical engineering from the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. There he met and married Rachel, another Garifuna student at the university. They have six children.

"I went to work for the Honduras government for ten years until I was offered an opportunity to work for a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor on projects in Latin America," he says. "Later, they decided I would be more useful to their work in Africa."

The contractor preferred that Amaya be U.S.-based, so the family moved to Philadelphia. He earned his master's degree in international development from the University of Pennsylvania.
 
The dramatic growth of the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States, captured in the censuses of 2000 and 2010, did not go unnoticed by America's political elites. Amaya remembers the raw opportunism and frantic attempts of both the Democratic and Republican parties to tap into what was perceived as a potential source of voters. Likewise, corporations, awakened to an emerging customer base and potential consumer market, began to look for Spanish-language spokespeople.
 
"I remember the lawyers all over the region where I live in Virginia running around, struggling with their broken Spanish to reach out to the Hispanic population because it was growing so fast."
 
According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics in the U.S. today number almost 60 million, more than 18 percent of the population. By 2050, that number is projected to rise to approximately 133 million, and Hispanics will comprise one-third of the population. Hispanics are "the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority," the Census Bureau reports, and ten states already have at least one million Hispanic residents.
 
For many Americans, the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are interchangeable, but for purposes of the census "Hispanic" refers primarily to descendants of people from Mexico or other polities once under Spanish colonial rule, while "Latino" refers to the populations of Central and South America (Latin America), but includes Brazil, which was colonized by the Portuguese.
 
How the descendants of the millions of Africans forcibly imported into the New World defined themselves is rarely addressed. In some countries, Amaya explained, those who owned slaves included them in census responses as an indicator of wealth. After independence, "governments sought to present a whiter face to the world in order to attract European immigrants." The hierarchical color codes denoting mixed blood and status, with "black" at the bottom, were maintained as a social construct but discarded for purposes of the census.
 
"Wherever you go — and I've been around, in Latin America and Europe and lots of other places — it doesn't matter the type of regime, left  or right, democracy or autocracy or theocracy, black people are always in the same position, at the bottom of the economic ladder.
 
"And in my work, I have to look at those things and say, So why are we being sold the idea in Latin America that we're all the same, that we have the same rights, the same opportunities, yet we're always at the bottom? Nowhere is there anything close to a racial democracy. I came to the realization that it was a deliberate effort by the white Hispanic elite to keep the situation like that, and to inflate its [own] numbers."
 
With guidelines set by the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Census Bureau has tried to address the issue with a linguistic panacea of sorts. Hispanics and Latinos, according to the Census Bureau, are not a race but rather an ethnic group that can be of any race. The bureau notes that, "in 2000 and in 2010, the Some Other Race (SOR) population, which was intended to be a small residual category, was the third-largest race group. This was primarily due to Hispanics identifying with any of the OMB race categories. In addition, segments of other populations, such as Afro Caribbean and Middle Eastern or North African populations, did not identify with any of the OMB race categories and identified as SOR."
 
The 2020 census race categories will be the same as they were in 2010: white, black or Afro American, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and as many as eleven boxes to denote Asian.
 
In order to be recognized as Garfuna in the 2020 census, Amaya will have to write "Garifuna" or "Honduran" on the form under origin:Hispanic and then check the box for black or African American. Presumably, he will be counted as both. Amaya estimates that, when adding the Afro Latino population to the black/African American one, the combined percentage of the total U.S. population is probably closer to 20 percent.
 
At the same time, his insistence on raising the visibility of the Afro Latino presence in America has caused discomfort in some quarters. Indeed, he's been accused of being divisive when he points out that the diversity of the Hispanic/Latino population in the U.S. is not fully represented.
 
Amaya's letter to a Census Bureau director addressed "the concern increasingly voiced by millions in the Afro Latino community, a significant growing segment of the Hispanic population in the United States, which doesn't see itself recognized, equitably represented, and sharing equally in the benefits — including representation in government, employment services, and so on."
 
Locally, Amaya has been working with the District of Columbia's Complete Count Committee to ensure that Afro Latinos are counted in the 2020 census. During the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference in September, he was a key organizer of a panel, "The Decade of the Diaspora: A Conversation on the Afro Descendant Experience in Latin America," hosted by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Actor Danny Glover was a speaker, as were several Garifuna activists. Although the event focused on the challenges and conditions of Afro Latino communities abroad, the question of identity resonated throughout the discussion.
 
In 2001, UNESCO recognized the Garifuna language, dance, and music of Belize and neighboring Honduras as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity." Spoken, Garifuna is a mellifluous tongue comprised of African dialects, Carib, Arawak, and elements of French.
 
Amaya is fluent in Garifuna and cites preservation of Garifuna language and culture as something most Garifuna are committed to. He is heartened by individuals like Ruben Reyes, who co-produced and starred in Garifuna in Peril, a film that portrays how modernity has affected Garifuna communities. Amaya sees the census as a valuable tool to foster Afro Latino and Garifuna unity and prosperity.
 
"We are promoting the inclusion of Afro-Latinos in census work," Amaya said. "I work to get the word out about the differences that exist on the census and the invisibility of the Afro-Latinos within the larger Hispanic population. 
 
"We have our challenges," he adds. But at the same time he trusts that Garifunas' "fierce resilience" will help chart their path forward.

Gilberto Amaya is working to make sure it does.
 
Khalil Abdullah is a former executive director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, a former editor/writer for New America Media, and a former managing editor of the Washington Afro Newspaper.

Bias and Language in Behavioral Sciences Research and Analysis

November 25, 2019

Funder_biasIn our previous post, we discussed the principles of ethical research and the importance of disclosing funding sources. Now let's explore how you can avoid funder bias and why you should use inclusive language in your research and analysis.

Guard Against Funder and Other Biases

Just as reporters should be committed to objective journalism, behavioral scientists have the professional and moral obligation to conduct fair, unbiased research and analysis.

In the health services industry, research findings can educate funders, practitioners, and potential patients of the effectiveness of a new treatment or prevention regime and/or used to develop more effective programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes companies and institutions fund research with the expectation that the scientists doing the research will "steer" the study toward results that put the funder in a positive light.

To avoid funder bias, researchers should only participate in research projects where there is no pressure on them to coerce participants, design tests to generate positive results, or alter their conclusions. They also need to eliminate their personal beliefs and values, perceptions, and emotions from the study, so as not to produce a biased outcome. As a researcher, you have a responsibility to be honest and objective and not give colleagues or the scientific community a reason to distrust your work.

Use Inclusive Language

Non-stigmatizing terminology that is applied with care and takes into account the diversity of your audience sends the message that you are eager to establish a fair and respectful atmosphere around the sharing and discussion of results.

Inclusive language also helps foster respectful relationships. It avoids prejudice and stereotypes. It doesn't exclude people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, or appearance. It doesn't imply judgment or assign value. Examples of inclusive language in behavioral health include using "substance use disorder" instead of "addiction" or "mental health patient" instead of "mentally ill person."

For all of these reasons, and others, inclusive language and an aversion to bias are absolutely essential if you want your  research and analysis to be taken seriously. If you haven't already, now is an excellent time to incorporate them into your research efforts.

(Ilustration credit: Tarbell)

Peter Gamache, PhD, and Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, are principals at Turnaround Life, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps others with grant writing, program development, capacity building, and evaluation.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 23-24, 2019)

November 24, 2019

Cornucopia-166186079-592c3f2b3df78cbe7e6c4135And...(long pause)...we're back with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Democracy

It’s been thirty years since the Berlin Wall fell, inspiring a democratic awakening across Central and Eastern Europe. What lessons does the end of the Cold War offer for the next generation of reformers? On the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, Tim Judah reflects on his own experience and talks to activists in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic about where they were in 1989 and their hopes for the future

Diversity

What is "equity offset" and why should you care? Nonprofit AF's Vu Le explains.

Education

On the GrantCraft blog, Anne Campbell, an assistant professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, finds lots to like about Scholarships for Change, a new online resource created by our talented colleagues here at Candid.

Fundraising

If you're still fundraising on bended knee — well, stop it. Social Velocity's Nell Edgington explains why in the new year you need to think about "making your ask from a place of true worthiness, true value, and true equality."

Giving

Effective altruism site GiveWell is offering matching funds to any donor who hears about the organization's work via a podcast ad campaign it is running. Learn more here.

Grantmaking

As she prepares for the next stage of her career in philanthropy, Michelle Greanias, who recently ended her tenure as executive director of PEAK Grantmaking, reflects on what she has learned over the last eleven years.

On the Transparency Talk (Glasspockets) blog, Claire Peeps, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation, explains why its important for a foundation, even a leanly staffed foundation like hers, to keep the door open to all kinds of nonprofits.

Health

Citing research and resources that demonstrate the critical connection between health and rural economic development, Katrina Badger, MPH, MSW, a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Katherine Ferguson, MPA, associate director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (CSG), argue that we need to rethink how we invest in rural America and the way we approach health and equity across its diverse communities.

Nonprofits

Is your nonprofit measuring the things it should be measuring? Is it measuring anything at all? On the Candid blog, Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer at Bloomerang and executive director of Launch Cause, walks readers through the five key performance indicators that every nonprofit should be measuring.

Over the last three weeks or so, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has been announcing the winners of its 2019 Impact Awards. Check out these links to learn more about the Emergent Fund, Unbound Philanthropy, the Libra Foundation, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation. And congrats to all!

Philanthropy

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy and the author of Giving Fingerprints, regrets the fact that too many donors seem not to understand the importance of the relationships they have (or don't) with the nonprofit organizations they support.

Science/Technology

On the Ford Foundation's Equal Change blog, technology fellow Michelle Shevin and Michael Brennan, a program officer in the foundation's Technology and Society program, explain why this is a critical moment for open-source digital infrastructure.

Social Good

Did you know that by 2025, millennials will comprise three-quarters of the American workforce? What are the implications of that for capital providers, asset managers, social enterprise founders, foundations, corporations, and impact funds looking to leverage their assets for social good? On the Alliance magazine blog, Christina Wu, community and impact measurement manager at European Venture Philanthropy Association, shares some thoughts.

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share. And Happy Thanksgiving to all! We'll be next Sunday with another roundup.

Research and Analysis Best Practices in Behavioral Sciences

November 15, 2019

Behavioral health servicesBehavioral and mental health conditions have long been misunderstood and exaggerated. Societal factors play a significant role in how those with behavioral or mental health problems are perceived. Behavioral science research can be used not only to educate the practicing professional but also to educate the public and help fight stigma. With heightened awareness and understanding, health disparities can be eliminated and better health policies developed.

However, before diving into research, there are some best practices we should take into consideration. Below, we will discuss the principles of ethical research, how to disclose funding sources, how to avoid funder bias, and the importance of using inclusive language.

Ethical Research

When it comes to the behavioral sciences studies, it is unethical to conduct research that converts public resources such as foundation funding into private gains. It is unprincipled to conduct biased work. Because research and analysis involve the participation of individuals or groups who have the relevant experience and background, there are also a number of ethical practices to take into account.

The research should not put participants at risk or seriously damage the environment. Informed consent is another one of the foundations of research ethics and is key to minimizing harm, distress, or discomfort for the participants. Participants in a study must not have been coerced or deceived into participating. They should understand the purpose of the research and, more importantly, recognize that they are participating in a study. It's also an ethical practice to discuss research methods and any potential inconveniences participants may experience.

Researchers also should explain how they intend to protect participants' anonymity and ensure their confidentiality. In many behavioral science studies, the subject matter is private or sensitive in nature. Participants want to feel safe when sharing information by knowing that identifiers that reveal who they are will be removed from any published work. If for any reason a study needs to disclose participants' identities, researchers have the legal responsibility to get their permission.

Disclosure of Funding Sources

Behavioral health studies can be costly to conduct and may require multiple funding sources. Research in behavioral science typically is funded by grants from government agencies, foundations, and private companies. However, financial connections between funders and researchers may raise concerns around biases and conflicting interests. Conflicts of interest can occur when the researcher has financial interests or personal relationships with an organization funding the study.

It is a common concern to assume that sponsored studies will favor the sponsor. Complete reporting of financial support sources and the existence of any conflicts of interest allow the research and the accuracy of its published findings to be judged on the merits. Disclosing funding sources also increases transparency and, in turn, public trust.

Disclosure of funding sources is so important in behavioral sciences studies that government agencies such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Institute of Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control have established guidelines for authors to disclose funding sources and financial relationships that may bias their decisions, activities, and work.

For research to be respected, well-received, and assessed fully and fairly, it should be free of funder bias. In a future post we will more fully explore why it’s essential to avoid funder bias and will talk about the importance of using inclusive language and why the communication of research findings is more effective when the research itself is non-discriminatory, unbiased, and free of judgmental labels.

Peter Gamache, PhD, and Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, are principals at Turnaround Life, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps others with grant writing, program development, capacity building, and evaluation.

Every Sector Has a Role to Play in Addressing the Nation's Home Affordability Challenges

November 11, 2019

Housing-affordibility-twitter-1024x767Recently, companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple have made significant commitments to address the housing affordability crisis in the Bay Area and across the United States. While such commitments are a great start, much more needs to be done to ensure that all families in America can afford a decent place to live.

It is unacceptable in 2019 that one in six families pays half or more of their income on rent or their mortgage. For many, this means choosing between having a safe place to live or having enough money for food, transportation, health care, and other basic needs. At Habitat for Humanity, we believe a roof over one's head shouldn’t cost anywhere near half one's pay. We also believe it will take all of us working together to significantly impact the housing deficit in this country.

While there is no silver-bullet solution to the nation’s housing challenges, collaboration between the private, public, and social sectors are key to making affordable housing accessible to more families. And as nonpartisan players working to address housing challenges in their communities, nonprofit organizations have a critical role to play in advancing workable, bipartisan policy solutions that will have a lasting impact on the problem.

To better address these issues, Habitat recently launched Cost of Home, a national advocacy campaign that aims to increase home affordability for ten million people through policy and system changes at the local, state, and federal levels. More than two hundred and eighty local and statewide Habitat organizations across the country have already signed on to implement the campaign in their communities.

As part of the campaign, we have identified four things that must be done in order to achieve home affordability for American families: increase the preservation and supply of affordable housing; increase equitable access to credit; optimize land use for affordable housing; and develop communities of opportunity. In the past year, we've already seen some success at moving these ideals forward.

For example, last December the Minneapolis City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan that allows small-scale residential structures with up to three dwelling units to be built on individual lots in residential neighborhoods, abolishes parking minimums for all new construction, and allows higher-density multi-family housing to be built along transit corridors. The plan makes Minneapolis the first major U.S. city to end single-family only home zoning — and one of the first to take steps toward abolishing restrictive zoning that prevents minorities from moving into certain neighborhoods. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity was a significant voice in advocating to eliminate single-family-only zoning regulations in Minneapolis.

Similarly, Austin Habitat for Humanity worked with a coalition of affordable housing and community development organizations to secure passage of Affordability Unlocked, a proposal designed to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city. Key elements of the proposal included zoning changes and eliminating development requirements related to parking and minimum lot size. In May, after hours of debate, the Austin city council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance.

And in February, Oregon governor Kate Brown signed into law the first mandatory statewide renter protection legislation. The bill limits the scope of termination notices without stated cause, protecting families who are living paycheck to paycheck. Shannon Vilhauer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Oregon, which represents local Habitat groups across the state, testified in support of the legislation.

We're working with our state and local Habitat organizations to build on these advocacy successes by putting home affordability issues front and center for council members, mayors, and state representatives across the country. As a complement to our influence at the state and local levels, we are also expanding our advocacy engagement at the federal level, with a focus on a set of bold, high-impact housing policy solutions. The campaign's policy priorities will provide a platform that mobilizes housing advocates and elevates the issue of home affordability in the national conversation, with the goal of ensuring that every candidate running for office has a plan to increase home affordability in their communities and states.

Major financial commitments from some of the country's most generous enterprises and philanthropies serve as a reminder of the urgency of the problem and the need to address it. By continuing to work at all levels of government to advance policy solutions that will lead to systemic change, we can create an environment that will further our vision of making the cost of home something everyone can afford.

Headshot_Jonathan_ReckfordJonathan T.M. Reckford is chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, which he has led since 2005.

Fit to Fund: Who Should Pay to Raise Standards for Good Financial Grant Practice?

November 08, 2019

Global standardsFunders have a right to expect that their nonprofit grantees have systems and structures in place to manage grants effectively and ethically. But does that right also imply that funders have a responsibility to invest in the grant management capabilities they expect from organizations they entrust with funds?

In the production of French cognac, nearly twenty million bottles, or 8 percent of the country’s annual production, is lost to evaporation after the distilled spirit has been put up in oak barrels; this is known, rather romantically, as "the Angel's Share."

A similar but far less romantic phenomenon occurs in the nonprofit sector. According to Caroline Fiennes, author of It Ain't What You Give, It's The Way That You Give It, roughly $125 million in the United Kingdom alone is "lost" by grant recipients in the production of reports required by funders and government agencies; much of that is spent on duplicate assessments as part of the submission of multiple grant proposals.

Rather than going to the angels, this $125 million could be seen as the "admin share," with both funders and their nonprofit grantees spending significant amounts of time and money on multiple due diligence assessments, diverting funds to needless administrative tasks that could be used to change lives for the better.

Most grant proposal forms use different criteria, leaving many would-be grant recipients unclear about what funders expect of them. This also means that many nonprofits end up spending hundreds of hours a year filling in different forms that ask for the same basic information in slightly different ways.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than when it comes to filling in forms designed to assess a nonprofit's grant management practices. In part, this is because funders are under increasing pressure from watchdog groups, the media, and taxpayers to demonstrate that the funds they award are being spent effectively and ethically.

In addition, different ideas about what constitutes good grant management practice have led to lower levels of trust in grant management capabilities across global funding supply chains. As a result of this breakdown, nonprofits find themselves having to jump through ever more complex and costly assessment hoops in order to reassure funders of their reliability.

The Global Grant Community (GGC) was established to address this broken model and reduce the "admin share" of funds being lost to paperwork. Its mission is to enable more money to flow to the people who need help by using standardization and the disruptive power of technology to reduce the cost, in time and dollars, currently entailed in connecting funders with potential nonprofit partners.

Our antidote to "admin share" is the world’s first international standard for Good Financial Grant Practice (ARS 1651:2018). For the first time ever, there is now a global standard for good grant management practice that CBOs, CSOs, NGOs, and higher educational and research institutions can adopt, bringing rigor and trust to even high-risk funding environments and creating a level playing field between state and philanthropic funders and their beneficiaries.

Streamlining and stripping out the cost of due diligence by standardizing and digitizing the due diligence process also means a greater comfort level for funders — and more money for organizations that are working to create greater impact for people across Africa and the world — a win for both funders and recipients.

The new standard was developed at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya, with support from some of the world’s largest public- and private-sector funders, including UKAID, USAID, Wellcome, UK Research and Innovation, the UK Department of Health and Social Care, the IKEA Foundation, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), the African Union, and the New Partnership for Africa's Development and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD).

Developed in partnership with the African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), the standard was piloted and road-tested by more than three hundred organizations around the globe and was formally adopted (ARS 1651:2018) by ARSO in June 2018. As such, it sets out more than two hundred and eighty clauses stipulating what major funders expect from their grantees with respect to grant management practice. The practices are organized into four broad organizational areas — financial management, human resources, procurement, and governance — and four tiers of compliance — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (depending on the scale and complexity of funding and the size of the nonprofit, NGO, or research institution).

The GFGP standard is not meant to replace existing audit and assessment processes but instead provides a strong and consistent belt for a funder's braces. Because grant recipients are assessed against common standards of grant management practice, funders can have greater confidence that their funds will be spent effectively, responsibly, and free from corruption. Working with certified Global Grant Community organizations also reduces funders’ risk and the cost of audits and compliance, ensuring that more of their funds support government policy objectives, Sustainable Development Goals, and Grand Bargain targets.

At the same time, a global standard benefits grant recipients. Because the standard clearly sets out the grant management and risk mitigation procedures funders are looking for before awarding grants, nonprofits can use the standard as a tool to improve their grant management capabilities.

The journey for a nonprofit to world-class grant management practice begins with a simple GFGP Pre-Certification Assessment that measures its capacity to comply. Organizations can improve their funding prospects further by opting for an independent audit by a licensed GFGP Standard Certification Body and earning a Certificate of Compliance, which can be displayed as a quality mark on a searchable database used by funders, where it is seen by many funders. This "provide once – share with many" functionality reduces the time and money that grantmakers spend on finding and verifying reliable partners.

Critics of the standard may point out the irony of yet another new form that needs to be filled out. However, we believe that over time the GFGP standard will be the only form a nonprofit ever needs to complete. Still, there is a short-term cost for nonprofits, and while the costs are far lower than the price charged by external audit firms and other third-party verification bodies, they do represent a barrier for many organizations, which in turn limits the ability of those organizations to improve their grant management capabilities and attractiveness to funders.

That raises an interesting question about whether the world's biggest funders should subsidize the cost of completing a GFGP assessment for underresourced organizations. We say "yes." By making the cost of an assessment and certification an allowable grant expense, funders would be acting in their own self-interest while strengthening the ability of their nonprofit partners to spend the grant funds they receive responsibly and ethically. If you decide to give someone a car, the first thing you probably want to know is whether person has a driver’s license. The same principle applies here.

As well as making a GFGP assessment an allowable expense, we are calling on funders to provide small grants through a special fund to pay for assessments for the smallest CSOs as a way of ensuring that no organization is left behind. It's our belief that the GFGP standard will become an international standard on which all grant funding, and the way funders fund, is based. It is long overdue, and we look forward to the many positive changes its adoption will bring.

Headshot_michael_kilpatrickMichael Kilpatrick is senior advisor to the Global Grant Community at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya.

When Less Is More: Cities Unlock the Potential of Micro-Philanthropy

November 05, 2019

Love Your Block_NewarkIn their 2017 book The New Localism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak make the case that we're at the beginning of a new era: one in which cities and counties must take the lead on new strategies to address pressing social and economic challenges.

But if they hope to be successful, city leaders cannot take on this burden alone: they need to unleash the collective power of their communities. The good news is that a growing number of cities are finding that supporting communities in small ways — for instance, with microgrants — can deliver outsized impact.

Consider the case of the Denver Foundation, which has kept its Strengthening Neighborhoods initiative going for nearly two decades. The initiative provides grants ranging from $100 to $5,000 to fund community-driven solutions that take advantage of the skills and resources already present in a community. Similarly, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation's Spark Grants program relies on a grassroots leadership model to bring diverse groups together to strengthen local neighborhoods.

The power of small grants to drive change has not been lost on city leaders, many of whom are embracing the potential of micro-philanthropy — and pairing it with a citizen-led ecosystem that supports the effective implementation of those grants. In Newark, we've taken these lessons to heart and are eager to share some of what we've learned about how small grants can help lay a foundation for improved social and economic mobility.

First, cities need help in creating the infrastructure that will ensure success. In addition to providing cities with a $25,000 grant, the Love Your Block grant program — a program of Cities of Service, part of Bloomberg Philanthropies' American Cities Initiative — supports cities with two full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members who assist the mayor's office in the areas of capacity building, information sharing, and community engagement. At the point where the cities start to divvy up their Love Your Block grant into micro-grants, the VISTAs also assist community members with their grant applications. And it works. In two targeted neighborhoods in Newark, thirty-four residents submitted project proposals totaling $42,518 for community clean-ups, minor home repairs, and vacant lot activation.

Second, cities need to learn from others who are working to get individuals involved in similar ways. Cities of Service has created a blueprint for action and provides ongoing technical assistance that includes advice about troubleshooting challenges as well as tips on making connections with other cities working on similar initiatives (including using both formal and informal communications channels, from webinars and e-newsletters to Slack). In Newark, our Love Your Block grant was implemented by the city's Office of Sustainability, which works to make Newark a healthier, cleaner, and greener city — and which relied on resources provided by Cities of Service to ensure that implementation of the grant went smoothly.

Third, cities need to create opportunities for continued collaboration in order to reap the longer-term benefits of micro-philanthropy. When the Urban Institute recently studied the value of the Love Your Block program, it found that, in addition to revitalized neighborhoods, Love Your Block projects led to increases in both social cohesion (the level of connectedness individuals feel to their neighbors and surroundings) and social capital (as a result of relationships built with city leaders over the course of the project). That social capital then becomes a catalyst for even deeper work and collective action. Newark is taking collaboration a step further by committing public dollars to continue the Love Your Block program. To ensure that philanthropic resources are aligned with the priorities of city leadership and, ultimately, the city's residents, it is also one of the few state or municipal governments in the country to have created the position of philanthropic liaison, thanks to a unique public-private partnership between city government and the local funding community under the auspices of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers.

Cities have a unique opportunity to drive big returns on investment from small grants. A citizen-led microgrant program allows for a more accurate identification of the challenges that people in the community want to see addressed. Engaging community members in this way can create long-tail benefits such as increased social cohesion and civic engagement that can be channeled into other community needs. When these three pieces — microgrants, technical assistance, and human connections — come together, the impact is greater than the sum of its parts.

Comp_ras_baraka_myung_j_leeWith the right support networks in place, hyper-local microgrants can accelerate city leaders' efforts to not only meet the short-term needs of their communities but also strengthen the networks and relationships that drive long-term outcomes. The result? Stronger connections between citizens and municipal leaders — and stronger cities overall.

Ras J. Baraka is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Myung Lee is executive director of Cities of Service, a national nonprofit based in New York City.

Changing the World One Scholar at a Time: New Free Resource Launches

October 29, 2019

Today's donors and institutional philanthropists have become more ambitious in their aim to address the world's most pressing problems. How is this trend affecting the world of scholarship philanthropy? At their core, all scholarships aim to change the lives of recipients for the better. Some donors, however, have been able to leverage scholarships to impact society more broadly while improving whole institutions, industries, or communities. From increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion to creating economic opportunity in struggling communities, scholarship programs can be designed to create positive societal change that extends far beyond the individual recipient.

Earlier this month, Candid marked the launch of Scholarships for Change, a website and set of tools designed to help donors increase the impact of scholarship giving. Funded by the Ford and Mellon foundations, Scholarships for Change provides funding trend data, an interactive grants map, GrantCraft case studies, and a curated knowledge center that together serve to orient, inform, and empower donors with a road map to effective scholarship philanthropy.

Scholarships for change

Although supporting scholarships is often one of the first activities a new philanthropist undertakes, there has been no publicly available centralized source of knowledge about who has funded such programs and what they have learned. Scholarships for Change fills this gap by pulling together knowledge and data to guide funders in the practice of scholarship grantmaking and tells the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships. Scholarship seekers will benefit from the open access to insights into donor strategies that the platform provides.

Visitors to Scholarships for Change can access:

  • Information about nearly 680,000 scholarships for change made between 2006 and the present. A funding map displays aggregate trend data and scholarship-focused grants with a specific change agenda. You can use the map to identify funding concentrations and gaps as well as key actors in the field, and learn more about what the data has to say about the types of social change most frequently supported by scholarship funders.
  • Lessons learned by others, as captured in a dozen new GrantCraft case studies filled with insights from experienced scholarship funders, including the Ford Foundation, the Mastercard Foundation, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
  • A searchable resource center with research and news providing up-to-date access to knowledge about change-oriented scholarships.

Scholarships have the power to create greater access to education, fuel economic mobility, and lift up communities. We invite you to explore and learn from Scholarships for Change and welcome your suggestions for additions to the site.

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Candid. Headshot_janet_camarena

The Fiduciary Responsibility and Nonprofit Boards

October 28, 2019

AR-160409948A key ingredient of success for any nonprofit is solid board governance. And that requires a blend of intellect, reputation, resources, and access — and that board members faithfully exercise their fiduciary duties.

Board directors have three primary fiduciary responsibilities: duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of impartiality. For a nonprofit to operate successfully, it's critical that board members fully understand the nuances of all three.

Best practices for a nonprofit board

When individuals agree to sit on a nonprofit board, they often do so out of a passion for the organization or its cause and may not fully understand the liability or responsibility of oversight that comes with the role. Some best board practices for nonprofits include:

Create a diverse board. Cultivating a culture of openness and inquiry is important to the effectiveness of any board. A board that includes different perspectives naturally allows for a range of ideas and opinions and allows for exploration of different approaches, which in turn benefits the organization.

Plan for sustainability. Planning doesn't just include fundraising and accounting for future dollars. Planning for sustainability means developing and putting a leadership succession plan in place to ensure the future success of the organization. Creating term limits for board members may also be important for the long-term health of an organization. The timely and planned rotation of trustees or directors on and off the board helps prevent complacency and contributes to the influx of fresh ideas.

Strike the right balance. Every nonprofit hopes to forge a strong partnership between staff and the board. And that requires striking a healthy balance between the power and responsibilities of the executive director and those of the board. The executive director should be in regular communication with the board but should also be sure to impart only meaningful information. Too much meaningless information shared with a board creates noise and distracts everyone from the organization's mission and work. By the same token, the board must be respectful of an executive director's prerogatives and avoid micromanaging the functions of the staff and day-to-day activities of the organization.

Recruit fresh talent. Attracting and retaining talent is critical for any organization that wants to succeed. The board is responsible for creating the job description and responsibilities for the executive director and ensuring that competitive compensation and benefit structures are in place for staff.

Be open to feedback. Boards should regularly solicit feedback from an organization's constituents, donors, and stakeholders to ensure that the organization remains focused and on track. Such feedback can also provide insights that the organization may be able to use during its strategic planning exercises.

Focus on transparency. It is critical to share information about what the organization is doing — and why — with donors, stakeholders, and members of the public. And that involves requires regular, planned communication.

Onboard new board members. Be sure to provide an orientation for new board members to ensure they are up to speed prior to their first board meeting. Make sure the onboarding includes the setting of clear expectations for their service on the board, education with respect to their role and the relevant bylaws, and thorough documentation of the organization's mission, values, programs, and finances.

What is a fiduciary relationship?

A fiduciary has a duty imposed by law to act solely for the benefit of another as to matters that fall within the scope of the relationship. The fiduciary standard includes undivided loyalty, prudence, and good faith and requires that the fiduciary act in the best interests of those with whom s/he has that relationship (in the case of a nonprofit board member, to the organization on whose board s/he serves). While board members act as fiduciaries for the organizations they serve, when the board itself does not possess the skills and experience to properly carry out all its fiduciary duties (e.g., the management of the organization's investments), it has a fiduciary duty to find a partner with that particular expertise. That partner — say, an investment manager — then serves as a fiduciary for the organization and its board. From the perspective of an investment partner, being held to the fiduciary standard means it must provide to the board thoroughly researched and accurate information and recommendations — and, most importantly, prioritize a client's best interests above incentives, commissions, or its own firm’s bottom line.

The fiduciary's role on a nonprofit board

Investment advisors can serve as either a strategic partner or consultant to a board that is looking to carry out its fiduciary responsibility with respect to investment oversight of the organization. In the role of strategic partner, advisors can advance the sustainability of the organization by helping the board craft a suitable investment policy statement, taking appropriate risks in the investment portfolio, and continuously monitoring performance. Investment advisors also can partner with auditors on financial reporting and serve as a resource with respect to industry best practices (even if it means going above and beyond their primary responsibilities). For example, hosting an orientation session for new board members will help them come to their first board meeting with an understanding of how the organization's portfolio is structured and give them the information they need to make informed decisions.

Nonprofit board directors have a number of key responsibilities and one of the most important ones is adhering to the fiduciary standard. It's critical that information and education be provided so that those who are involved in a leadership role of a nonprofit understand their fiduciary obligation.

Headshot_nikki_newtonNikki Newton is president of private wealth management at UMB Bank.

New Report: What Influences Young Americans to Support Social Causes

October 25, 2019

Take-actionClimate change is the number-one issue of concern among young Americans. That's one of seven major findings in the new Influencing Young America to Act 2019 report my colleagues and I released earlier today.

The second report in the Cause and Social Influence initiative I lead examines how the oldest members of Generation Z and the youngest millennials ("young America"), those Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, are influenced by and influence others to take intentional action on social issues and analyzes how those actions coalesce to form a community of support for specific social movements.

Social Issues of Interest

In our research, we define a social issue as an existing situation recognized as being counter to a generally accepted social value that can be mitigated through people working together to deploy community resources to change the situation.

The top five issues of interest to the young America (and the percentage that selected them) are climate change (30 percent), civil rights/racial discrimination (25 percent), immigration (21 percent), healthcare reform (20 percent) and mental health/social services (16 percent).

Social Movements of Interest

In our research, we define a social movement as a group of people working together to support the interests of a community whose lives are affected by a specific issue; the group often is unable to address the issue and achieve a satisfactory resolution without the support of dedicated community activists and constituents.

The top five movements of interest to young America are #MeToo (26 percent), #BlackLivesMatter (26 percent), #AllLivesMatter (24 percent), #HumanRights (24 percent ) and #MedicareForAll (23 percent). (Note that although climate change was the number-one social issue, it did not appear among the top five movements.)

Moving Young America From Awareness to Action

For me, the most fascinating findings of the study relate to a young person's journey from awareness to action. How do causes capture individuals’ interest in the first place and then move them to take the first step — and all the steps thereafter — toward support of an issue or movement? And how do causes successfully motivate followers to recruit others to support the movement?

We found that when young Americans initially learn about an issue in which they have some interest, their feelings of empowerment dramatically affect whether they continue on the awareness-to-action journey or choose to stay on the sidelines.

The most successful journeys typically involve an issue that strike a personal chord with individuals. And once young Americans learn more about an issue, most will act.

What about those who don't? Do some choose inaction out of apathy — or is something else involved?

When young Americans decide not to take action on an issue they care about, the most popular reasons they cite for not doing so are "I don't know what to do," "It's not my place," and "I can't make a difference." On the surface, these all would appear to reflect a certain apathy.

But I would argue they reveal the opposite of apathy. Few respondents in our research said they didn't care. Young Americans want to act; they just don’t know of or believe that they're capable of meaningful action.

That is the very definition of lack of empowerment.

Much of what's in the report reflects a strong sense of empowerment in young Americans. Most young people do act, and most say their actions are not prompted by someone asking them to get involved. Rather, it’s because they feel compelled — and empowered — to get involved.

The following are recommendations for how causes and nonprofits can use the findings of the new report to build support for their issue.

Recommendation #1: Take concrete steps to ensure that young Americans feel empowered by your cause or issue. Whether you're the leader of a cause or movement, a social entrepreneur, or the person responsible for social responsibility at your place of work, it's up to you to spark and/or reinforce young Americans' feelings of empowerment. You do that by regularly letting them know how they are helping to change things and by sharing stories of real people who have been helped. You also want to be sure to encourage your supporters to share with others why they are so passionate about your issue. A feeling of empowerment should power every step of the awareness-to-action journey, so keep that feedback coming.

Recommendation #2: Ask young Americans to do something to show their support. Then ask them again. When we asked research participants whether and what had prompted them to take action, they either said no one had asked them to take action or a person/organization had explicitly asked them to take action.

Is your cause or organization content to simply to "raise awareness" of your issue? Sorry, but that’s not enough for young Americans in 2019. They want to take action. They want to be told what they can do that will make a difference. It's up to you to share with them concrete opportunities to do so at every step along the awareness-to-action journey. And don’t forget to follow up, at each step of that journey, with the results of their support.

Recommendation #3: Be a positive, credible part of the online conversation around your issue. Young Americans are listening to the news media online, which means you need to be there, too. They're also all-too aware of the "fake news" phenomenon, so it's up to you to keep abreast of the conversations happening online around your issue, to share accurate information in those conversations, and to do what you can to address incorrect and inaccurate information.

Young Americans tend to trust nonprofit organizations and social movements. It's up to you to reinforce and leverage that trust by always demonstrating authenticity and credibility. As you deepen your listening, think about how you can position yourself or your organization as a subject expert (blog posts and free resources on your website are a great start). Just remember that you're a participant — one of many — in the online conversations happening around your issue and not the primary spokesperson for the issue. Keep your focus on the issue itself — and on all the things young Americans are doing to drive real change.

Influencing Young America to Act 2019 has a lot more to say about all of this. You can download it here.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Candid’s Regional Teams: An Update

October 22, 2019

This year has been a busy one for Candid. In February, Candid was formed as the result of a combination of Foundation Center and GuideStar. One of our most important initiatives of the year has been the transition from four Candid regional library centers to our 400+ Funding Information Network (FIN) partner locations.

Candid’s staff in the Bay Area is now all under one roof, after Foundation Center staff moved in to the existing GuideStar office in Oakland. In Atlanta, Candid’s team has partnered with CARE by moving into that organization’s Global Innovation Hub along with several other social entrepreneurs, technologists, and internationally-oriented nonprofit organizations.

Candid_training_PND

In the next two months, Candid’s Washington, D.C., team will share space in our existing office on H Street, while staff in the Cleveland area will move into Midtown TechHive, a co-working space located along Cleveland’s Health-Tech corridor.

Why is Candid transitioning its library services?

In July, I wrote about what this initiative means for the communities we serve. Our transition away from providing direct in-person library services at our four regional offices will free up our teams to engage directly with audiences beyond our four walls.

Taking our D.C. metro area location as an example: currently three of our FIN partners are located within a ten-mile radius of our current location, and all three are Metro accessible. Our D.C. team plans to offer three to five classes per month locally, at various locations, and also plans on holding monthly training events at the University of the District of Columbia. Our largest office and library in New York City will continue to operate in its current form, providing library services and trainings on-site while also delivering programs across the region.

We'll also begin experimenting with local programming close to Williamsburg, Virginia, where a large contingent of Candid team members are based. Check the local calendar on grantspace.org for upcoming community events and to use our map tool to find partners near you.

Programming highlights from our regional teams

Our regional teams have been busy planning local events and partnering with organizations on the ground to deliver relevant, meaningful programs. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Candid is currently a lead partner in “The Soul of Philanthropy” exhibition in Cleveland. The three-month traveling exhibit officially opened on Friday, September 6, with over three hundred and fifty philanthropists, foundation executives, civic and business leaders, and community members in attendance. It was a magnificent celebration dedicated to uplifting and amplifying the power of black philanthropy. This is just one of several media stories about the exhibit, and you can learn more in this blog post.
  • A one-day Training Works conference was hosted in Atlanta by Candid staff on September 20, with nearly forty attendees on-site at the CARE Global Innovation Hub.
  • Network Days, Candid’s annual convening for Funding Information Network members, was held in New York City on October 10 and 11. More than sixty partners traveled to the city to attend in person, while another hundred and sixty tuned in virtually for sessions covering such topics as Candid’s Nonprofit Start Up Assessment Tool, best practices to help nonprofits secure funding through donor-advised funds, and why it’s critical for nonprofits to earn a Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.org. We also hosted an intensive train-the-trainer event earlier in the week, guiding partners and staff through a deep capacity-building experience designed to equip them to deliver high-quality programming through a culturally responsive and human-centered lens. It was an enlightening and energizing week that showcased just how central the Funding Information Network is to Candid’s mission and to hundreds of local communities.
  • Candid staff presented a program at the end of August that explored  a California legislative proposal to regulate donor-advised funds. Ninety-four people participated in person in San Francisco, while another ninety-one tuned in to the livestream.
  • Candid also hosted its second annual program with the authors of Unicorns Unite — Vu Le, Jane Leu, and Jessamyn Shams-Lau — on September 18. The program included an in-person and livestreamed panel discussion, followed by a facilitated in-person exercise with the authors in San Francisco, plus eighteen watch parties across North America.
  • Due to popular demand, we increased our monthly course offerings of Introduction to FDO to twice a month at the San Francisco Public Library, one of our Bay Area FIN partners.
  • Working with the New York City Department of Education, Candid will present Introduction to Fundraising Planning to approximately one hundred public school art teachers at our New York library location. The sessions also will introduce teachers to Candid's library resources and provide them with hands-on experience searching Foundation Directory Online for public education and arts grants.

Whom can I contact if I have more questions?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of our team members with questions or ideas:

Western region: Michele Ragland Dilworth
Northeastern region: Kim Buckner Patton
Southern region: Maria Azuri
Midwestern region: Teleangé Thomas

We are thrilled by the opportunity this new operating model presents and are looking forward to meeting with more of you across the United States. As always, you can connect with me directly to talk about how we can serve you better.

Zohra Zori is vice president of social sector outreach at Candid.

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Learn more about what Candid can offer you today
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To Build More Diverse Teams, Avoid Unconscious Bias When Recruiting and Hiring

October 21, 2019

Diversity-inclusion-292x300The benefits of diversity and inclusion for nonprofit organizations are well-documented and include greater success in almost every possible metric. Often, however, nonprofit leaders and managers tend to ignore a key barrier to more meaningful workplace diversity: unconscious bias.

Research shows that bias — prejudice in favor of or against a thing, person, or group — is part and parcel of human nature. It influences all kinds of decisions, and most of us are unaware when it's a factor in those decisions. Unconscious bias is the term used to refer to judgments and decisions that are deeply affected by our unconscious mind — decisions that can play a significant role in recruiting and hiring.

Indeed, even as a growing number of nonprofit organizations say they are working to increase the diversity of their staffs, unconscious bias may be negatively impacting nonprofit workplaces by undermining efforts to recruit and retain diverse employee, contributing to poor hiring decisions and salary inequities, and denying equal opportunities in the workplace for women and people of color.

That's why it is important for your organization to recognize and mitigate unconscious bias in its recruiting and hiring processes.

Ready to get started? Here are a few tips:

Educate your team. Provide your HR team with articles, case studies, and trainings related to unconscious bias. Be sure your team knows what it is, how to recognize it, and how to avoid it.

Develop consistent, structured hiring processes. Before your organization launches its next job search, develop a list of core competencies for the job, including skills and experience, and then evaluate every candidate for the job against that list. Be sure, as well, to ask each candidate for the job the same questions to ensure that your evaluations of various candidates are impartial. To ensure that all prospects for a job are assessed against the same criteria, it’s also a good idea to have the same person interview all candidates for a job.

Consider using "blind" techniques. Blinded, or redacted, candidate materials can be effective in reducing bias in that they eliminate the possibility of making snap judgments based on details (e.g., name, address, alma mater) that may have nothing to do with whether a candidate is a good fit for a position. When such details are masked in resumes and CVs, interviewers are more likely to make decisions based on core competencies (see above) rather than personal factors. Similarly, when asking candidates to submit samples of their work, be sure to remove identifying characteristics from the documents to ensure that prospects are assessed and evaluated against a consistent set of criteria.

Expand your network. Employee referrals are often a useful tool in identifying qualified candidates. But because employees tend to refer people who are like themselves in terms of race, education, and background, such referrals can work against an organization's diversity goals. To expand your candidate pipeline — and build a more diverse workforce — task your HR team to go beyond the "usual" referral sources and proactively reach out to a range of organizations and sources.

Elevate your job descriptions. Job descriptions often end up being aligned with certain biases (unconscious or otherwise). Certain requirements (e.g., an advanced degree) will limit the candidate pool to a homogenous group of people with the same kind of experience and will make it almost impossible for you to consider a diverse range of candidates. Pay attention to the language you use in your descriptions: certain words can intimidate or be off-putting to some prospects and may discourage them from applying. You might want to consider eliminating, for example, gender-specific pronouns from your job descriptions. This can help eliminate gender bias in your recruiting processes and signal that your organization is committed to diversity and inclusion in a real and serious way.

Recognize and avoid the "halo and horn effect." This occurs when someone associates certain factors (e.g., working for a prestigious company) with particular traits (the candidate must be smart and capable). If someone on your hiring team "prefers" a candidate because s/he worked for a specific company, went to a particular school, or roots for the same sports team, it can create a "halo effect" around that candidate that puts him/her in an advantageous position with respect to other candidates. Conversely, a single negative association can create a "horn effect" resulting in a negative perception of that candidate. It's important your team looks beyond a single trait or factor and takes a more holistic view when considering candidate qualifications, factoring in a variety of data to determine which candidate is right for the job.

Be aware of affirmation bias. We tend to seek out commonalities when meeting someone new — did we attend the same school? do we live in the same neighborhood? During the recruiting and hiring process, we're more inclined to favor candidates who are "like us" and share our interests and/or beliefs. Conversely, we may not feel as strong a connection to someone who has a different background and may view them less favorably as a job candidate. If you want to increase the diversity of your staff, move away from considering only "people like us" and try to build teams comprised of people with different experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds.

Ideally, the decision to hire a candidate should be based solely on whether you think s/he will excel in the job. Unfortunately, unconscious bias often gets in the way of our conscious desire to make purely competency-based hiring decisions. The best way to combat this tendency is to recognize it and put in place hiring practices designed to promote equity, consistency, and fairness at every step of the process.

Headshot_molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. Molly is a frequent contributor to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Philanthropy News Digest, and other publications and recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

5 Questions for...Bill Cummings, Co-Founder and President, Cummings Foundation

October 18, 2019

Bill Cummings thinks of himself as a serial entrepreneur. At the age of six, he would venture over to a construction site near his parents' house and sell bottles of soda. Decades later, after having worked in sales for a number of national consumer product firms, he bought his first "real" business, a century-old fruit juice syrup manufacturer, for $4,000. Five years later, he sold the company and used the seven-figure proceeds to establish Cummings Properties, which today manages more than ten million square feet of debt-free real estate in suburban Boston. Nearly all the properties are owned by and operated for the benefit of the Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, which was established by Cummings and his wife, Joyce, in 1986, with a focus on providing support for small nonprofits in the counties surrounding Boston. Much of the couple's giving over the years was done quietly and under the radar — a fact that changed when the couple decided to sign the Giving Pledge in 2011.

PND recently spoke with Cummings about his journey from entrepreneur to philanthropist, the evolution of the foundation's $100k for 100 program,  and the impact of the Giving Pledge on his thinking about and approach to philanthropy.

Bill_cummings_square_jpgPhilanthropy News Digest: Your foundation launched the $100k for 100 initiative in 2012 with the aim of providing a hundred nonprofits in the Massachusetts counties of Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk with grants of $100,000. Did you have any models in mind when you designed the program?

Bill Cummings: No, we had nothing in mind. We had operated independently for a long time, and we had a policy of reaching out to nonprofits that weren't high profile, groups that typically found it difficult to secure foundation support. I suspect it's that way wherever you go in the U.S, and it's a shame, because there are so many small, obscure nonprofits doing marvelous things in their communities. We try to give a few of them in our neck of the woods more visibility. That was our initial goal, at any rate, and it eventually evolved into what, for several years, was known as the $100k for 100 program.

We have since combined that program with our Sustaining Grant program to create what is now a $20 million annual grantmaking program. Separately, both were extremely successful, but we came to realize we were doing two sequential programs to be included in our Sustaining Grants Program, organizations needed to have been included in one of the $100k for 100 cohorts and so we decided it would be better to streamline them. By combining them, we also eliminated the gap year that had been programmed into the Sustaining Grants effort. Under the new model we're able to provide longer-term grants of up to ten years.

PND: What do smaller, local non­profits need to do to prove to the foundation that they're able to handle what, in many cases, is likely to be the largest gift they've ever received?

BC: The $100,000 we awarded through the $100k for 100 program typically was awarded over a period of three to five years. Under the new model, if an organization has an annual budget of $50,000, we can make a big difference in their sustainability if we give them even $10,000 a year over ten years. We're talking about things like food pantries or afterschool day care. Once we know them a little better, we can then determine how much of the overall grant amount should go out at any one time. Initially, we committed to giving out $10 million a year, and it took a while for us to scale up. But now we're paying out considerably more than that.

PND: You and your wife signed the Giving Pledge in 2011. Did that have anything to do with your decision to scale up your philanthropy and be more public about it?

BC: Yes, but it didn't really change our approach or philosophy. Making one's philanthropy more public is one of the goals of the Giving Pledge, and when we joined it wasn't long before an editor at the Boston Globe called and said, "I've never heard of you. How can you be doing all this, and I never knew you existed?" Then she called the Boston Foundation to see what she could learn about us, and they hadn't heard of us, either. She was a little skeptical about us for a while, but we steered her to a few people who knew us, and she did her due diligence. At one point, I recall her saying that she was thinking of calling our foundation "The Billionaires Next Door."

By Giving Pledge standards, we're small. The Cummings Founda­tion has about $2 billion in assets, compared to, say, the more than $50 billion in assets held by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The first Giving Pledge meet­ing my wife and I attended was a strange experience for us. We looked around the room and at the sixty or so other couples who were representing different foundations and organiza­tions and pretty quickly realized we were probably the least wealthy people there.

After we visited Africa for the first time, we decided we wanted to expand our philanthropic work beyond the three counties here in Massachusetts and decided to support some things in Rwanda. It was reassuring to be able to talk to other Giving Pledgers and be told that what we had seen and learned while we were in Rwanda was accurate, and that it was a good place in which to invest philanthropically. It's that kind of access to smart people, people who have done this and are happy to have us run ideas by them, that makes the Giving Pledge so valuable .

PND: Are you looking at other opportunities in Africa, or anywhere else, for that matter?

BC: For now, we're limiting our international giving to Rwanda. But we've learned about other organizations there through members of the Giving Pledge, and we've encouraged some of them to support organizations there that we're familiar with organizations like Uni­versity of Global Health Equity, which opened its new campus in January. We're also looking at expanding our activities in Rwanda in ways that better connect them to each other. The organizations we support there really could do more working together than alone, and we've encouraged them to apply to us for joint grants. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is one example.

PND: This is a moment of pretty intense political polarization in the United States. Do you have any thoughts about where we are as a country and how we got here? And are you optimistic about the future?

BC: I wish I were more optimistic than I actually am. In general, I'm an optimist, but I'm beside myself with some of the things I see going on in Washington these days. In our company and our foundation, we have always worked to build trust and accountability. Sadly, our country has a chief executive who openly talks about how one can profit from bankruptcy and how it's easy to cheat people. That's not good; that's discouraging. But I'm hopeful we will get beyond that.

I've been traveling a lot over the past year to promote my book. And that has led to some interesting opportunities. For instance, we worked with Harvard Business School recently on a Cummings Properties case study. I applied to the business school as a 21-year-old just out of Tufts and was effectively rejected and told to reapply in two years. So it's great fun, as you might imagine, to have a case being studied at Harvard.

Recently, I gave a book talk to a thousand people in Rwanda. I didn't sell a lot of books, but I was able to give audience members free access to a copy of it on the Internet. I also spoke at the Saïd School of Business at Oxford University and to another eight hundred people at the University of Alabama. Giving a talk like that is a lot of fun, and it helps to promote philanthropy. It's been an interesting sidebar to my career. Yes, the runway is getting shorter, but I don't see any reason to stop looking forward.

Matt Sinclair

How to Ensure Your Data Science Is Inclusive

October 16, 2019

Tanzania-citizen-priorities-767The potential of data science to support, measure, and amplify sustainable development is undeniable. And as public, private, and civic institutions around the world come to recognize the role that data science can play in advancing growth, an increasingly robust array of efforts aimed at fostering data science in lower-income countries has emerged.

This phenomenon is particularly salient in sub-Saharan Africa, where foundations are investing millions in building data literacy and data science skills; multilaterals and national governments are pioneering new investments in data science, artificial intelligence, and smart cities; private and public donors are investing in data science centers and local data science talent; and local universities are launching graduate-level data science courses.

Despite this progress (and the attendant hype) lurks an inconvenient truth: As a new generation of data scientists emerges in Africa, there is relatively little trusted, accurate, and accessible data available to them.

We often hear how data science can be used to help teachers tailor curricula according to student performance, but the fact remains that many school systems on the continent don't collect or track performance data with enough accuracy and timeliness to perform data science–enabled tweaks. Many firmly believe that data science can help us identify disease outbreaks early, but healthcare facilities often lack the patient data and digital capabilities needed to surface those clues.

Fundamental data gaps like these invite a question: Precisely what data do data scientists need to advance sustainable development?

There are, of course, compelling examples of data science being put to use for the public good. Emerging use cases include exploring call detail records to improve mobility and urban planning, using remote sensors to measure agricultural or economic growth, and mining online content to monitor election violence. These and other examples prove beyond a doubt that data science has a role to play in advancing sustainable development.

But obtaining call detail records requires time, money, and (often) political connections. Online content (like tweets) typically reflects the views of the relatively small number of people in lower-income countries who have Internet access and avail themselves of social media platforms. Even though we're working hard to make data science accessible to everyone, data scientists are left to work with information that remains either inaccessible to most technologists or is unrepresentative of the most marginalized populations.

The lack of good data has consequences. As leaders and influencers increasingly rely on data science to guide their decision-making, they risk making decisions that ignore the needs, perspectives, and values of the people they serve who are not online (more than half the world's population), or who don’t use a mobile device (which are used more by men than by women).

They also risk disenfranchising a new generation of African data scientists who lack the financial resources to access large and reliable datasets, or who have to watch as better-funded organizations an ocean away — for example, universities in the Global North — conduct data science and analytics focused on their communities.

The good news? There are steps we can take that will help data science achieve its full potential in the realm of sustainable development. Here are three:

1. Be wary of encouraging a generation of data scientists who must rely on expensive, hard-to-access data in order to meaningfully apply their skills. We should couple our data science training with efforts that build data collection skills through methods such as community mapping or data-sharing initiatives like data collaboratives.

2. Be conscious of the risk of reinforcing dependencies on companies whose technologies, platforms, and datasets comprise the bulk of data science case studies. We should intentionally pair our investments in data science with investments in indigenous innovations that produce data for data science. Low-cost, locally-built technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and initiatives that produce locally relevant training datasets can help mitigate such dependencies.

3. Be mindful of focusing too much on data science and not enough on data literacy. We should double down on building fundamental data skills — collecting, cleaning, analyzing, sharing — within health clinics, schools, and local government agencies, where so much valuable information is actually produced. Doing so will improve the availability and reliability of large datasets for use by homegrown data scientists.

Fortunately, momentum is beginning to shift in favor of indigenous data science. Entrepreneurs are rolling out innovations designed to address language gaps. Initiatives such as Data Science Africa and Deep Learning Indaba are nurturing communities of machine-learning experts. These are steps in the right direction.

Five years from now, a new generation of socially-conscious impact-driven African data scientists will have emerged, and many of them will be driven to use their skills to address sustainable development challenges. We must ensure that the information that powers their efforts isn't limited to expensive, inaccessible, or unrepresentative data that sits primarily in the hands of a few mobile operators, banks, or tech companies.

Getting there means complementing the hype of data science for global good with the long, difficult work of improving data quality at the local level, investing in indigenous technology and content, and investing in fundamental data skills. Only then will the data science revolution be primed to achieve its full potential.

Samhir Vasdev is an advisor for digital development at IREX's Center for Applied Learning and Impact. A version of this post originally appeared on the IREX website.

This Is America

October 15, 2019

America and MomAmerica, my youngest cousin, started college in August. She is the daughter of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with hopes of building a new life, a life better than the one offered by their home country, Mexico. America was born in the U.S. and is a dedicated student. She has committed herself to studying hard because she wants to fulfill her dreams and her parents' dreams — dreams for which they have sacrificed much. By graduating from high school, America is one step closer to her dream. This is her story, but it's also the story of hundreds of thousands of low-income first-generation students of color who dream of success and fight against odds and unfamiliar systems to keep their dream (and their families' dreams) alive.

For many students like America, the path to a college degree is difficult. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, state funding for higher education has declined as a share of the budget over the past four decades while tuition has tripled at both the UC and CSU systems over the past twenty years. A 2018 study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento found that a large majority of community college students fail to obtain a degree or transfer to a four-year institution. The same study found large disparities between minority and Caucasian students, with only 26 percent of African-American students and 22 percent of Latino students earning a degree or certification or successfully transferring to a four-year university within six years. That's compared to 37 percent of Caucasian students. In 2018, the CSU system reported that only 25 percent of first-time freshmen finished in four years, while only 38 percent of transfer students attained their degree in two years. Although California spends more on financial aid per Pell Grant recipient than any other state, it's clear that more needs to be done to assist the 48 percent of students who identify as students of color and the 41 percent who are first-generation college-goers. Simply put, they face more barriers to college completion than other students. Indeed, according to CSU's 2018 Basic Needs Study, students who identified as black/African-American and as the first in their families to attend college experienced the highest rates of food insecurity (65.9 percent) and homelessness (18 percent) of any group. All these students, like America, deserve a level playing field and a fair shot at success.

East Los Angeles

America is a hopeful teenager who aspires to become a lawyer. She graduated from my alma mater, James A Garfield High School in East L.A. Think El Mercadito, Oscar de la Hoya, Whittier Boulevard. Think Stand and Deliver, the story of Jaime Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos in the movie). Yeah, that East L.A. and that Garfield High School. That's the environment in which America grew up.

East L.A. is an amazing community, but it faces many challenges, including a more than 22 percent poverty rate, nearly double the national average. It also struggles with low educational attainment, with only 8.3 percent of the population holding a bachelor's degree or higher. Forty-three percent of the population possess no degree at all. The neighborhood is also plagued by gangs and gang-related violence. My niece is living proof, however, that East L.A. is still a place where resilience and persistence can lead to success and the American dream.

America's Family and the Challenges of Financial Aid

After spending her childhood and teen years in East L.A., America was accepted at UC Merced. While not her first choice, the school offered the best financial aid package. Neither her mom nor dad received high school diplomas, and when America was applying to colleges they struggled to navigate a system they were not familiar with. Despite the challenges, all the necessary financial aid documents were completed and submitted.

America's financial aid package included $5,500 in loans. Of that, America and her parents decided to accept only $1,000, opting to figure out how to source the remaining $4,500 on their own. Although $5,500 might seem affordable, it's only a best-guess as to what is needed for the first year, and no one knows whether the amount will change in year two, three, or four. In addition, $5,000 of America's financial aid package was tied to work study. If she chose not to work, then the $4,500 already picked up by her family would balloon to $9,500. America's family's annual income is $30,000. And it gets more complicated when you consider that America's parents also pay $2,000 a year for her older sister to attend East Los Angeles College.

In her book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and The Betrayal of the American Dream, Sara Goldrick-Rab examines the conundrum faced by first-generation college students who apply for financial aid. In the book, Goldrick-Rab details a study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab that asked 1,110 students how long it took them to complete financial aid paperwork. Almost a third (29 percent) said it took them one to two hours to complete, while 20 percent said it required more than two hours, with one in three of those students saying the person who helped them complete the paperwork had not attended college. Such was the case for America. "Si, un monton de papeleo, nunca en mi vida me habian pedido tanto papeleo," America's mom told me. ("Never in my life have I been asked for so many documents.")

Fulfillment of a Dream

In July, America excitedly told her parents that UC Merced had invited her to a new student orientation. Her parents were quick to ask why it cost $100 per person to attend. They asked me, her cousin, to go with them because, as America's dad said, "Pues es que no conocemos por alla," ("We're unfamiliar with stuff over there.") I gladly accepted and headed out with them on a Friday afternoon for the Saturday session. The trip came at an opportune time. As a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation, I work on issues of access, success, and affordability for underrepresented college students, with a focus on students struggling with basic needs

When we finally got to Merced, America and her parents were bright eyed, taking in a new landscape and imagining how America soon would be making it her home. They were excited for her and glad for the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the drive, knowing they would be coming up to bring their daughter home for the holidays and other occasions. America gently reminded them she only planned to come home twice a year. I didn't attend the orientation, as I figured it would be good for America and her parents to experience the day on their own.

When I picked them up, they were beaming with optimism and ready to share everything they had learned. Like any good recap at a gathering of Mexicans, they started by describing the food. But the question they were most interested in hearing an answer to was whether UC Merced took attendance and whether the school would notify parents if their daughter stopped attending classes. They knew America was bound to grow increasingly independent, but they also felt it would be good policy for UC Merced to communicate with parents in such situations. America laughed — not out of frustration but in appreciation of her parent's "old schoolness" and the love they were demonstrating by readily accepting things they didn't fully understand but knew would be good for her.

America started UC Merced last month and is beyond excited. She embraces her status as an underdog and relishes the challenge. More than anything, she does so because she's seen her parents beat the odds to give her the opportunity. If you drive through East L.A. today, you'll see eight-foot-high banners on lampposts lining major thoroughfares like Atlantic Boulevard. In 2016, Garfield H.S., in partnership with local businesses, educational organizations, and elected officials, obtained permits to display pictures of Garfield graduates holding the pennants and wearing the sweaters of the colleges they were leaving home to attend. At the top of each banner it reads "Garfield is college bound," while across the bottom it says "The pride of East L.A." America is on one of those banners, and her parents could not be prouder.

In the months and years to come, America and her family, like many other first-generation low-income students of color and their families, will navigate unfamiliar new systems together, tread new paths together, laugh at what they don't understand together, and most likely cry whenever they are not together. For now, they happily cling to their recent victory, America's high school graduation and the memory of their embrace after America walked across the stage to receive her diploma.

What's in a hug for America's parents at graduation? Sighs of relief after years of sacrifice. Memories of a border crossing filled with fear that led to an indescribable moment of joy. The fulfillment of a dream that first took shape in a small town in Mexico, thousands of miles away, and seemingly thousands of years ago. The satisfaction of knowing that waking up at 4:00 a.m. every day, day after day, to work a low-paying job was worth it. The satisfaction of knowing that in four years, despite the challenges, "primeramente Dios," ("God willing"), they'll be waking up at 4:00 a.m. to drive up the 99 freeway to see their daughter walk across another stage.

Miguel_leon_for_PhilanTopicMiguel León is a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation.

Texas Border Families Fuel a Network to Build Power and Equity

October 11, 2019

Rio-grande-valleyIf you're familiar with the Rio Grande Valley and listen to the rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., you know it has nothing to do with the reality lived by most families in the region.

Even as the national spotlight continues to cast its glare on the border, a collective yearning for human dignity, civil rights, and community progress is building in the valley, which is home to more than 1.3 million people. Sadly, the aspirations of the people who live there — and the region's vibrancy — are easy to overlook.

What you won't learn from listening to the president and his supporters is that the region is home to a grassroots movement driven largely by Latinx families comprised of both U.S. citizens and immigrants that for years has been advocating for solutions to problems created by decades of structural poverty and a lack of equitable access to financial resources.

Families in the region know better than anyone how public policies create progress and economic opportunity — or fail to. Poverty and intolerance, they will tell you, are blocking human potential — and creating costs for all of us. At the same time, dignity and compassion continue to be core values of the region's residents as they organize for social change and better lives.

"This is a moment where people can see beyond themselves," says Martha Sanchez, organizing coordinator for farmworker and civil rights organization La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). "Hate is not healthy for anybody. We need to look more deeply."

A Philanthropic Network Amplifies the Voices of Families

Central to this movement-building work, community and family leaders say, is the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a multi-issue coalition of Marguerite Casey Foundation grantees and allies. It is among fifteen regional networks the foundation and its grantees started. (The foundation, which has invested more than $7 million in the Equal Voice Network model, also supports the Native Voice Network and a youth-led network).

 

The network is an incubator of sorts where low-income families can meet, voice ideas, and focus collectively on bottom-up, community-led policy solutions.

Grassroots leaders in the region will also tell you that the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has been investing in community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley since 2003, is one of the few philanthropic funders to issue sizable, multiyear general support grants to nonprofits in support of family-led movement building. Those dollars are used by grantees as they see fit in their efforts to alleviate poverty and promote equity in the valley. As we like to think, that support represents both philanthropic trust and movement building in action.

"We try to be a regular presence, to see how we can connect organizations with other ones. It's about being a bridge," says Christina Patiño Houle, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network weaver, a role akin to a coordinator or facilitator. "What we provide is convening space. The network provides the focus of pulling people in so they're in conversation."

The network is comprised of eight foundation grantees in the valley and approximately twenty allied nonprofit organizations, many of them also based in the region.

Because network members are in regular contact with Rio Grande Valley residents and the focus is on grassroots movement building, local, state and U.S. government officials — including elected ones — make it a point to stay in frequent communication with the organizations and their leaders.

"It's a testament to the network's ability to mobilize people," says Patiño Houle.

Network members meet regularly to discuss the well-being of families in the region, which boasts more than forty-five cities and hundreds of unincorporated neighborhoods known as colonias.

While the issue of immigration touches all network members in some way, families say there is more to life in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties than what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border: families are fighting to secure healthy, stable, and safe communities, quality education for their children, and peace and prosperity. So when network members meet in working groups, they also focus on jobs, housing, civic engagement, education, and health.

Out of that collective focus comes passion-inspired efforts aimed at creating positive social change. Families are at the vanguard of these efforts.

The work often starts at one nonprofit organization, which then spreads the word to other network members. Or it can emanate from weeks or months of brainstorming after a group of network members have heard from families about the steps needed to go forward. The network also amplifies the work of its partner organizations.

Families Honor Asylum Seekers — by Dancing

The morning before Mother's Day is muggy and overcast near Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city about twenty-five miles from the border. At Sunflower Memorial Park, in the flatlands off state Route 107, the inviting rhythm of Mexican-Caribbean music blares from loudspeakers.

Under a metal shelter, about ninety people — nearly all women — are wearing workout clothing, shuffling left then right, hips twisting freely and arms waving to the beat of cumbia and reggaeton. It looks like a normal exercise class at a local gym, but nearby are Maria Campos, her daughters, and about fifteen cardboard boxes full of goods.

Before participants start dancing, they hand Campos and her children toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, pasta, canned food, blankets and clothing.

The donated items will go to asylum seekers and others who were recently released from federal immigration facilities and are now waiting at shelters to be united with relatives or sponsors. The event is organized by LUPE, the grassroots nonprofit started by activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1989. Campos and her daughters are LUPE members. They and the participants at the park are continuing the work of serving humanity.

"This is the closest that many community members will get to what's happening at the border," says John-Michael Torres, LUPE's communications coordinator, as the music continues in the background. "We want to lift up treating people the way we want to be treated."

Campos, who lives in a colonia near Edinburg, has visited shelters with other LUPE members — some of whom have read books to migrant children there — to offer support to asylum seekers released from U.S. detention facilities.

"I put my hand on their shoulder," she says in Spanish. "I tell them, 'You are not alone.'"

Families Lend a Hand to Asylum Seekers

Mother's Day, and the air is still thick and humid in Brownsville, which sits about sixty miles southeast of Edinburg. At the city's bus station — minutes from a U.S. Mexico-border crossing — Sergio Cordova has arrived with food and supplies for immigrants and asylum seekers following their release from U.S. detention.

He is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, a humanitarian organization that provides food and emergency supplies to asylum seekers and migrants on both sides of the border. The network supports Team Brownsville by amplifying its needs and supporting its communication efforts.

As asylum seekers have arrived at the border in recent months, nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU of Texas, have dispatched staff members to talk with them about the conditions there and their treatment by U.S. authorities. U.S. border guards are stationed at the midpoint of the bridge that crosses the river to Brownsville, and these days they turn away asylum seekers looking to be processed at the border and instruct them to wait in Mexico. Advocates say the old protocol of allowing asylum seekers to start the process after they had crossed onto U.S. soil was safer and more compassionate for families fleeing strife, turmoil, and violence.

Inside the Brownsville bus station, passengers are waiting to board buses to distant points. At first, it's hard to determine who might have been released from federal immigration detention or how long a person or family might have been at the bus station. Some newly-released migrants spend days there, patiently waiting to be reunited with relatives or sponsors in the U.S.

Cordova, a local school district employee who grew up in an immigrant family, scans the room looking for people without shoelaces and belts. Immigrants and asylum seekers who were just released from federal detention aren't likely to have either, as U.S. authorities, citing safety reasons, require that they be turned over.

Cordova gives food to an immigrant family who hasn't eaten in days, and then an older woman approaches, saying in Spanish that people nearby need help. A younger woman quickly follows, keeping an eye on Cordova.

The younger woman, who appears to be in her twenties, looks distraught. Her brown hair is frazzled, and a small towel is draped over her shoulder. When she moves again, it's clear she's not alone. An infant, a girl, is sleeping on a metal bench in the waiting area. Cordova rips open a pack of diapers and hands the mother a stack along with a toothbrush. Soon, a bowl of cereal is placed next to the girl, who is covered by a blanket.

The mother pauses and smiles slightly. She tells Cordova she is from Honduras and that it's taken a month for her and her daughter to make their way to the border. Asylum seekers often make the journey by walking. It is Mother's Day.

"Any baby who comes through, we make sure they have formula," Cordova says. "All we give them is all that they'll have."

The stories that Team Brownsville volunteers and city staff hear at the bus station are harrowing and almost always involve tales of the instability, turmoil, and violence that people are fleeing, especially if they are from a Central American country. But people arrive from other countries, too, including Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh, Kosovo, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Later in the day, Cordova and Team Brownsville volunteers walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with food and supplies for families and individuals waiting to apply for asylum. On the Mexican side of the border, as people eat the donated food, one man talks about the persecution he faced in Cuba because he is gay. He says he is looking forward to living in the United States.

Families Meet to Boost Education

Each week, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network gather at a different community-based organization to chart a path to progress in other areas, including housing, jobs, and health.

The day after Mother's Day, the network's education working group is meeting at ARISE Support Center, located in a yellow two-story house in the city of Alamo. The house, which serves as the nonprofit's headquarters, is now a place for community organizing. Rooms are filled with chatter in English and Spanish.

It's fitting the meeting is at ARISE. The organization works with many nearby colonia residents, especially mothers. After getting tired of the conditions in their colonias — bumpy, potholed roads, a lack of streetlights — they became grassroots community leaders with the goal of creating positive change for their families and neighbors.

In minutes, the seats around the table in ARISE's lime green meeting room have been filled. Parents and community leaders are there to discuss ways to improve communication between families and school district officials.

School district board meetings, network members say, are held only in English — but parents in this heavily Latinx region mostly speak Spanish. Many say an English-to-Spanish translation policy at school board meetings would help support all families in their pursuit of a quality education for their children.

Also on the working group's agenda for the day: a discussion of how Mexican-American studies can be introduced into the school curriculum. Butcher paper goes up on the walls. Participants write down and discuss ideas.

"It's democracy because we are not working only for the best of one person," says Ramona Casas, a community organizer who helped start ARISE in 1987. "We're looking out for the best of community members."

A $190 Million Policy Win to Address Flooding in Colonias

Rain has just swept through the Indian Hills colonia, near the city of Mercedes, leaving the unincorporated area moist and muggy.

Near the intersection of Apache Drive and Campacuas Drive stands a sprawling tree. When neighborhood families need to discuss community issues and concerns — say, better roads or water drainage or their kids' safety — this is where they gather.

Lourdes Salinas, a community organizer with Proyecto Azteca, which works on affordable housing in the region's colonias, is standing under the tree with a few mothers. She lives in this colonia.

The women are talking about a major victory scored by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network in November 2018: a $190 million bond measure to fund nearly forty drainage projects in Hidalgo County colonias.

The county has hundreds of colonias — some community leaders put the number at between eight hundred and a thousand. Tens of thousands of families live in those colonias because they're affordable. But colonias are located on former agricultural land that was developed with an eye to retaining water for crops, says Ann Williams Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca.

When it rains here, homes and streets flood. Families talk of water rising as high as their waists. The water not only damages houses, including bedrooms and appliances such as washing machines, but can block streets leading into and out of colonias. Families are unable to leave their homes to buy groceries. Mothers talk of holding young children in their arms to keep them out of the water. Sometimes they slip and fall. Kids tell their parents that even the sound of rain frightens them. Sanitation systems fail during the flooding, contaminating neighborhoods.

In June 2018, the flooding reached worse-than-normal levels. Some have dubbed the event the "Great June Flood."

After that, families affiliated with the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network pressed their calls for better drainage. They went door-to-door and talked with neighbors, documented cases of flooding, attended government meetings, and studied flood maps and data. They then succeeded in putting a November 2018 bond measure on the ballot and spoke with Rio Grande Valley residents, explaining that the slightly higher taxes would benefit everyone.

Responsibility for the bond measure passing is shared by many families and community organizations, including ARISE, LUPE, and Proyecto Azteca, which all work in various colonias — places where their own families members live.

Sarai Montelongo, a mother in the Indian Hills colonia who started an influential Facebook page, used her platform to call attention to bumpy roads and the safety of neighborhood children and raise awareness about the drainage bond.

"We used to be a colonia that people forgot," she says in Spanish, standing under the large sprawling tree and near streets that have been the site of community meetings with elected officials.

While $190 million will not solve all the drainage issues in Hidalgo County, community leaders say it is a policy step in the right direction and that they will continue to work for more improvements.

"It will be a big change," says Salinas.

Rio Grande Valley, USA

Motorists looking to head north from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio take State Route 281. The drive takes about four hours and can be monotonous, save for the scrubby flatland greenery and what looks like a large gas station in the middle of the highway.

It's actually a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. Many people have questioned the need for these checkpoints so far from the border. According to the ACLU, however, the federal government can operate the checkpoints if they're within a hundred miles of the United States' "external boundary."

The ACLU also notes that U.S. border authorities are only permitted "a brief and limited inquiry into [the] residency status" of people who travel through the checkpoints. Cass of Proyecto Azteca says the federal checkpoints exist in every direction heading out of the Rio Grande Valley and are also found at airports.

A few days after Mother's Day, two U.S. Border Patrol agents dressed in olive green uniforms stand at a checkpoint lane and wait for motorists. One holds the leash of a K-9 dog.

As two visitors — a white American male and an Asian American male — pull up in an automobile, an agent wearing reflective sunglasses waves the vehicle through. No need to stop and answer a few questions; no need to show identification.

Beyond the checkpoint, however, a man with dark hair is standing in the grass just off the highway. In a matter of minutes, a U.S. Border Patrol van with flashing emergency lights arrives. Soon, two more government vans show up.

Weeks later, news breaks of crowded, unsanitary conditions at federal detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, of asylum seekers and migrants confined behind chain-link fencing, of migrant children remaining separated from their parents.

Sanchez, the LUPE organizing coordinator, says these types of stories and experiences underscore how important it is for communities to work together for human rights, equity, justice, and the alleviation of poverty.

"All of this reminds us of our humanity," she says. "We bring things in our heart to keep us human. For people here, it's not an option to give up."

Brad Wong is communications manager for the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This post was originally published on the Casey Foundation website.

Which Messages Will Get Out the Vote — A Generational Perspective

October 08, 2019

Vote_counts_830_0In a little over a year, America could see the unthinkable: the highest level of voter participation in living memory. And based on insights gleaned from recent research, voter messaging focused on issues and empowerment is likely to be key to the turnout.

Two factors are driving what could be a record turnout in 2020. First, while only about half of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, turnout in 2018 was the highest for a midterm election in nearly a century. Second, as the 2020 election cycle draws closer, we're seeing a continuing generational shift in the electorate. As noted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, boomers and older cohorts accounted for 7 in 10 eligible voters in 2000, but in 2020 will account for fewer than 3 in 10.

For the many groups trying to get out the vote as a way to create change in society, the type of messaging they use in their campaigns can make a critical difference in who wins and who loses at the ballot box.

As most of you know, however, messaging is more art than science.

For example, which of these approaches is likely to prove most effective in getting people off their couches and into the voting booth in 2020?

"We want change!" (March For Our Lives/)

"You must speak to be heard." (HeadCount)

"We Make Change Happen" (Hip Hop Caucus)

"Skip the lines. Vote early!" (various)

It's hard to say, because the variables that figure into any person's decision to vote are so numerous and fluid. Some people are motivated by a particular issue or issues, others by a passion (or dislike) for a particular candidate. People's changing circumstances — marriage, divorce, having children, losing a job, relocating for a job, etc. — also play a role.

To learn more about what drives people to vote, I led a new research study with the Ad Council, in partnership with Democracy Works, designed to:

  • uncover Americans' attitudes toward and perceptions of voting;
  • explore messages and narratives that have influenced those perceptions and attitudes in the past;
  • understand reactions to specific message frames among boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and members of Gen Z;
  • determine which message frames, for each generational cohort, are likely to be most effective in driving voter participation; and
  • identify the most compelling messages.

We recently published our findings in a report, Driving Voter Turnout in 2020: Research on Effective Messaging Strategies for Each Generation. And while our research was limited to the five frames within which most current messaging around voting falls — issue, empowerment, identity, companionship, and ease — we consistently found empowerment to be a critical driver of voting across all generations.

People who feel they have the power, the right, and/or the authority to do something are exponentially more likely to exercise that power/right/authority than people who do not feel empowered. (Note: this is just as true for giving and volunteering as it is for voting.)

Below is a brief summary of our findings, as well as some recommendations for empowering your supporters via your messaging.

Voting is valued. Members of all generational cohorts generally are excited to vote and view it as a civic duty. To reinforce this belief and attitude, consider a messaging campaign that encourages people to feel good about voting and reminds them that their vote gives them the power to affect issues they care about.

Generational differences come into play with second-tier messaging. Regardless of generation, the majority of respondents were most inspired by issue-focused messaging and found it to be the most appealing, believable, relevant, and inspiring frame. However, generations differ in their responses to second-tier messaging (i.e., messaging that reinforces the big campaign slogan/call to action). Which means you need to think about how to craft your communications based on the preferences of the generation that is being targeted.

Messages of empowerment and identity are the most effective (after issue). Our surveys showed that once you've hooked your audience with issue-related messaging, all generations respond best to messages of empowerment and identity (though Gen Z responded less favorably to identity-related messaging than other cohorts). For example, targeting members of younger cohorts with positive, inspirational messages (and images) helps them think about the bigger picture — and reminds them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, older generations are more likely to respond to straightforward messaging and acknowledgements of their already established identities as members of the voting public.

Although the majority of Gen Zers have not yet voted, they are just as excited about and engaged in voting activities as older generations — if not more so. Members of Gen Z view messages that speak to issues and empowerment as appealing, relevant, shareable, believable, and inspirational. (Think about campaigns such as March For Our Lives, which highlights the power of the individual.) Gen Z cares deeply, passionately, and openly about issues. Its members take their role in our democratic society seriously and believe that every person and vote counts. To inspire them, craft messages based on issue and empowerment frames.

Voting is essential to a well-functioning democracy. Today, with the political divide in the country as wide as it has been in half a century and the 2020 election looming, communicators have the power — and responsibility — to use all the tools at their disposal to influence voters, of all ages, to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right and make their voices heard at the polls.

We know that in order to influence how anyone views your issue, you first must influence how he or she views it in relation to themselves. The good news? You're starting with a significant advantage: today's younger generations already believe they can create change, whether or not institutions formally offer them the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether you're a marketer/communicator for a brand, a cause, or a candidate, your first and most important task is to empower your constituents to believe in that brand/cause/candidate. Help them feel like they're an important part of the social-change solution. And while you're at it, empower younger Americans to believe they hold the future in their hands.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

After the Hire, Then What?

October 04, 2019

Welcome-600x450You've gone through the time-consuming process of hiring a new employee, and you've hired the best candidate out there. Now you can relax, right? Not so fast. The work of onboarding has just begun.

Your new hire may have all the qualities and qualifications needed to make her a star in your organization, but the road to success isn't always that smooth. In fact, the line between fantastic and fiasco can be a thin one, and a lot of it comes down to how you handle the onboarding process.

Skeptical? Consider that more than half of all U.S. employees leave their job in the first year, citing internal factors like lack of training or mentoring as their reason for bailing. Contrast that with the 69 percent of employees who say they are likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they've had a great onboarding experience.

So what does "a great onboarding experience" look like? To help you train and retain new hires, here's our quick-start guide to best practices for onboarding.

1. Understand that onboarding isn't an event, it's a process. Some organizations mistakenly think that onboarding is an event that happens on a new employee's first day. Newsflash: a meet-and-greet over muffins in the conference room and pointing out where the restroom is constitutes only a small part of the onboarding process, which should actually start the day you make an employee an offer and continue for the next 365 days. PRO-TIP: Have a pre-set agenda for check-ins with any new employee at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days. Use that time to make sure the employee is settling in without problem or incident, understands his or her role and responsibilities, and knows where to go to give feedback or have an important conversation related to his or her work situation. Don't have an onboarding checklist? Download one here.

2. Include the whole team. We've all been there before: you come in to work one day, and there's a stranger in the breakroom. Is it a repairman there to finally fix the copy machine? Is it your co-worker’s ex-boyfriend come to win her back? Later, you discover the "stranger" is actually a new employee no one bothered to tell you about, leaving you feeling left out of the loop (and him or her feeling unwelcome). How to avoid such sitiuations? Be sure to send an email to your staff before any new employee's start day letting them know about the new hire and a little bit about who she is and what she'll be doing. Next, arrange a coffee break (don’t forget the muffins) at which your new hire can be informally welcomed to the organization and introduced to everyone on the team. PRO-TIP: While the whole team should play some part in the onboarding process, you should definitely consider assigning one person (a “buddy”) from HR or the new hire's team to help train her and make themselves available for questions.

3. Make a big deal of the new hire. That whole "coffee and muffins in the conference room thing" is a great way to introduce your new hire to her new colleagues and the culture of your organization, but it's just the start of the welcoming process. An employee’s happiness, productivity, and commitment to the organization over the longer term are all linked. Translation? It's time for a little red-carpet treatment. Start by making sure your new hire's workstation is clean (i.e., no traces of her predecessor) and set up with everything she'll need (computer, email, phone and passwords). PRO-TIP: Spread the news! Go the extra mile and (if the position is at a sufficiently high level) issue a press release and/or social media updates letting people outside the organization know how excited you are about your new hire.

4. Encourage new hires to ask questions. New employees tend to have a LOT of questions. Where are the office supplies kept? How do I make the copy machine stop copying double-sided? If the yogurt in the fridge doesn't have a name on it, can anyone have it? Does Hal realize that a mustache is not a good look for him? (Just kidding, Hal.) But many new employees don't want to come off as clueless or bother busy colleagues with what may seem like silly questions and will struggle to figure things out on their own. While every boss appreciates an employee who shows initiative, new hires often waste a lot of time trying to figure things out or doing them incorrectly (and then having to re-do them) — time they could have saved (and put to more productive use) if they had simply asked for help or instruction in the first place. Make sure your employees know that you not only tolerate and expect questions, you welcome them. PRO-TIP: Don't think that by simply saying, "If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask," people will take you at your word. Instead, check-in with your new hires frequently, especially over the first few weeks of their employment, and encourage their questions as part of the on-the-job learning experience.

5. Lay a foundation for closer team integration. At Envision, we have a mantra: "Everything we do is connected." Our work in the areas of search, strategy, and leadership are all part of a bigger picture. (It's also why we feature gears — cogs meshing together to keep the machine running smoothly — in our logo and marketing materials. Like us, your organization is comprised of individuals who are engaged in collective work toward a common goal. But often people are confused about (or may not even know) what other people are doing to achieve that goal, making teamwork and integration a challenge. As you take on new, and possibly more staff members, you may need to hold more team meetings, at least for a while. People often gripe about meetings, but they are an invaluable way to get everyone on the same page, help them understand what everyone else on the team or in the organization is doing, and show them how the office is run as a whole. PRO-TIP: To ensure that your meetings are an efficient use of everyone's time (and eliminate some of the aforementioned gripes), be sure to map out your objectives for the meeting beforehand. What is it you hope to accomplish? What do you want and need to know from various team members? Is the information to be shared relevant to everyone who will be in the meeting?

6. Guess what? Your board needs onboarding, too. It may surprise you to know that new staff members aren't the only ones who need onboarding. To be effective, board members need proper onboarding, as well. Every organization strives to assemble the best board of directors possible, but once those members have been elected, getting the most out them is an aspiration, not a given, and almost always involves a carefully thought-out process. Applying some of the above tips can also be helpful for onboarding new board members (e.g., asking a veteran board member to be "buddy"/mentor the newest addition to the board). A general board member orientation session is another great way to onboard new directors and and, at the same time, invigorate the entire board. PRO-TIP: Want more information? Check out this great advice from the National Council of Nonprofits.

Some of the above tips may seem to involve a lot of unnecessary work, but when you consider the cost, in time and money, of replacing a valued employee with a new employee, it's really not that much and will feel like a bargain once that new employee has settled in and is contributing as a full-fledged member of the team.

Headshot_ashley_watersonAshley Waterson, a creative messaging guru at Envision Consulting, has more than ten years' experience crafting content for various platforms, including comedy sketches, NPR features, and websites.

Memo to Foundation CEOs: Get a Youth Council

September 30, 2019

Calendow_presidents_youth_councilSeven years ago, we launched a President's Youth Council (PYC) at the California Endowment, and it seems like a good time to tell you that the young people who've served on the council over those seven years have significantly influenced our programming as a private foundation, been a source of reality-checking and ground-truthing on how our work "shows up" at the community level, and have substantially increased my own "woke-ness" as a foundation executive.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to briefly share why we decided we needed a President's Youth Council and how it works: In 2011, our foundation embarked on a ten-year, statewide Building Healthy Communities campaign that was designed to work in partnership with community leaders and advocates to improve wellness and health equity for young people in California. We had already been using a variation of a place-based approach in our work, and so we selected fourteen economically distressed communities to participate in the campaign — some urban, some rural, and all, taken together, representing the complex diversity of the state.

At the time, I was aware not only of the privileged position I occupied outside my organization, but also of how sheltered I was as a chief executive within my organization. More often than not, I received information about the effectiveness and impact of our work in the form of thoughtfully crafted memos from staff, PowerPoint presentations, and glossy evaluation reports filled with professionally designed charts and graphics. Even when feedback in the form of recommendations from consultants or comments from the community came my way, it was all carefully curated and edited. As I had learned — and this is especially true at large foundations — when members of the community get "face time" with the CEO, it is a carefully managed and considered process.

Being at least vaguely conscious of these issues early on in our Building Healthy Communities work, I wanted to ensure I would have some regularly calendared opportunities to meet face-to-face with young leaders from the communities we were serving. So, we solicited nominations from grantee-leaders in each of the fourteen program sites, and a President's Youth Council, featuring mostly young people of color between the ages of 17 and 21 and of varying sexual/gender orientations, was born.

Seven years later, here's what it looks like.

We meet three or four times a year (just like our board of directors), beginning with an informal dinner on Friday evening and continuing with breakfast and lunch conversations on Saturday. Then I excuse myself so that members of the council can have their own "executive session" and social time in the afternoon. They then de-brief each other over breakfast on Sunday before making their way home. The foundation pays their expenses and also provides them with a modest stipend — a welcome bonus, as many of these young people come from economically struggling families and communities. Between year three and six of their tenure, members rotate off and new young leaders are recruited to replace them. Two foundation staff members provide support with PYC meeting logistics and structure.

It's been a richly rewarding experience for me, and both I, as a foundation president and CEO, and the foundation — have learned a lot:

  • PYC members have pushed me and the foundation out of our strategic comfort zones. With respect to social justice, social media, youth-led and -shaped narrative change, youth empowerment, and governance, we are in many ways a different foundation than we were a decade ago. My young colleagues also have pushed me to be more courageous about using our foundation's brand and voice in the advocacy arena and to speak out more boldly.
  • Council members — and hundreds of their activist colleagues around the state — have helped us see how connecting young leaders across geographies can lead to policy change at the state and national level. Especially in the area of school discipline reform, the voices of young people engaged in "schools not prisons" and "health for all" campaigns have translated into meaningful impact.
  • I have learned a great deal about the intersection of childhood trauma and adversity in the battle for social and health justice. Our PYC leaders are exceptional — but they also carry an enormous burden of trauma and anxiety as a result of family and community stressors, economic distress, stigmatization in school settings, and adverse experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. One of our PYC leaders was murdered two years ago, others have been subjected to police violence, still others have had family members deported or have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. The trauma they experience is quite real, and over time we have learned to embrace the use of healing and spiritual supports when these young leaders gather and have built in "how are you doing" sessions on Saturday mornings.
  • We have learned — and are still learning — how to leverage PYC members specifically, and young people more generally, as thought leaders. At the moment, for example, I am asking them to give me their best thinking as we consider investments in grassroots leadership development in the years ahead.

We continue to think about how we engage with young people as authentic — and not "tokenized" — thought partners. For example, our board of directors has considered inviting a young leader or youth representative to sit on the board — although care must be taken when considering what it might be like for a young person (or two) to share his or her thoughts about complicated issues with fourteen or fifteen civic leaders in their forties, fifties, and sixties. We haven't ruled it out and will consider the possibility more thoroughly with members of the PYC in the year ahead.

We've also commissioned an evaluation of our PYC experiment by Professor Veronica Terriquez of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based on a survey, a focus group, and interviews with PYC members and PYC coordinators and foundation staff, the evaluation found that nearly four in five PYC members "strongly agree" (while the rest "agree") that they had further developed their leadership skills as a result of their involvement in the council. They also cited as a plus the various opportunities they have received, including participation in a support network, professional development and skills coaching, and an investment in healing and self-care.

So let me leave you with this: investing in activist, community-engaged young people has a triple-bottom-line impact: it generates positive benefits in terms of a young person's well-being; it generates positive benefits for his or her neighborhood; and it can result in positive policy and systems changes with respect to social justice and health equity.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about creating your own President's Youth Council.

Robert_K_Ross_2019_for_PhilanTopicRobert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Overcoming the Risk of a Rural Census Undercount

September 18, 2019

062319NorwoodColo_008The 2020 Census is the single most important event for rural America in recent history. Its impact will be felt for decades to come. And while most of the focus of the public discussion around the census has been on the prospective citizenship question (rightfully so), there also are fundamental changes in census methodology hidden in the weeds of the process that have the potential to diminish federal and state investment in rural America by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Below we address some key engagement factors: community trust and online versus in-person census data collection, and examples of private foundations working on a complete count.

Hundreds of billions of dollars reflect the enormous importance of the census for apportionment of everything from congressional seats, to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allocations, to Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp) payments.

As an example, just six modestly sized federal programs under HUD and USDA that currently represent $25 billion in federal investment might change dramatically based on 2020 Census counts. A rural undercount will also reduce funding for foster care, Title 1 grants, and free or reduced lunches for high-poverty schools, Head Start programs, energy assistance for low-income households, and much more.

There are roughly sixty million Americans living in rural regions of the country, and it is not a homogenous group: the total includes thirteen million people of color, two million immigrants, and three million members of the LGBTQ community. The majority of the country's tribal members live in rural regions. And while many urban-centric thinkers and policies tend to overlook rural places, the vast majority of our nation's food, water, and energy is produced there. The investments we make in rural people and places are investments in equity, diversity, and economic stability for the entire nation.

Rural advocates and rural policy watchers are deeply concerned about two important dimensions of rural life that are currently being overlooked by census planners and may therefore negatively affect an accurate rural census count.

First, a new emphasis on online census completion ignores the fact that rural America suffers from significant broadband deficits. One-quarter (25 percent) of rural Americans have no access to broadband services whatsoever. Many others have access but can't afford the hookup. And one-third of tribal members have no access to broadband (per the recent annual Federal Communications Report on broadband penetration). These rural deficits are particularly profound in the South and West, where significant numbers of rural people of color reside. Without online access, many rural residents simply will not be able to complete the census.

Second, funding for door-to-door census workers — often people who working in their local communities and calling on their neighbors — has been cut dramatically. This surfaces a deep-running absence of trust between rural places and the federal government.

Whereas rural residents may be willing to share their personal information with a trusted community member in a face-to-face conversation, these same residents may be reluctant to provide personal information to the federal government through an impersonal online or paper form. If a process doesn't feel trustworthy, what reasonable person would participate? As a result, that absence of trust may very well translate into an undercount and associated reductions in future funding and representation.

How Can We Combat a Rural Census Undercount?

Efforts are under way in some states like Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico to fund an enhanced ground game to get out word about the importance of participating in the census, with a focus on rural areas. Much of this work is being funded by private foundations that recognize the inherent benefit to their own missions if federal and state funding are maximized for the rural communities they serve:

  • In New Mexico, the state most vulnerable to undercount, more than a dozen funders have joined ranks with the New Mexico Civic Engagement Table and a tribal coalition to create NM Counts! 2020, a collaborative effort to ensure that all New Mexicans — particularly those in hard-to-count communities — are included in the census count.
  • In Georgia, the Sapelo Foundation has made an accurate rural count a key priority and has partnered with other funders to spread the word and solicit the active engagement of locals. (The top photo shows a small store in rural New Mexico with a broadband-linked computer system on the rear counter.)
  • In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation is leading the conversation and offering resources through its website, while its CEO, Kathy Annette, co-chairs the state's Complete Count Committee (the first of its kind in the nation). Another funder group under the umbrella of Funders for Civic Participation is leading the push to secure additional foundation support across the country.

Like the federal government, however, state governments and private funders can be disconnected from rural communities and fail to see how the true return on rural investment is often obscured by questions of scale, political partisanship, and  inaccurate myths about rural America.

To these funders, we'd like to point out that even a modest investment to help ensure an accurate rural census count can deliver enormous return in the form of federal dollars to address the very issues and challenges that are core to their work. The public dollars that will flow into rural communities to support food security, education, health care, and community development will enable both public and private funders to move from triage to transformation. For those who profess to focus on "upstream" causes rather than "downstream" symptoms, an investment in an accurate census count is about as "upstream" as you can get.

The question, then, is are you willing to invest the time and effort to ensure it happens?

Allen Smart (@allensmart6) is a veteran philanthropist and principal of consulting firm RuralwoRx. After being a funder for almost twenty-five years, he now focuses on writing, presenting, and provoking thinking about rural philanthropy.

Betsey Russell (@BetseyPR) is a philanthropy writer and researcher who works with foundations, philanthropic affinity groups, and philanthropy consultancies. She recently developed a series of case studies about successful rural funding approaches. This post originally appeared on the University of North Carolina School of Government blog and is republished here with the permission of the authors.

5 Questions for...Chera Reid, Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation, Kresge Foundation

September 16, 2019

As director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation for the Kresge Foundation, Chera Reid leads Kresge's efforts to use data to inform its grantmaking and social investing strategies, partner with grantees to ensure that the foundation's evaluation efforts support organizational and community needs, and shape how the foundation advances the fields in which it works. Previously an officer in Kresge's Education program, Reid has long focused professionally on issues of access and equity in institutions and systems and in her current role is leading the foundation's efforts to apply an equity lens to its evaluation activities, place-based practice, and collaborations across different fields and sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a master's from the University of Michigan, Reid served in leadership positions at the New York branch of America Needs You and the Phillips Academy Andover Institute for Recruitment of Teachers while earning a PhD in higher education from New York University.

PND spoke to Reid about Kresge's transition from a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on using a variety of tools to help grantees build stronger communities, the challenges of equity work, and how she stays upbeat and positive in challenging times.

Headshot_chera_reidPhilanthropy News Digest: You were named Kresge's first director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation in 2015, when Kresge was just a few years into its transition from being a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on helping grantees build stronger communities. What role did the Strategic Learning Research, and Evaluation program play in that transition?

Chera Reid: When the foundation was primarily a capital challenge grantmaker, and we'd ask whether a project had been completed, a grantee would send in a photo of the completed physical structure. The other piece of it was financial. Kresge only released capital challenge grant funds when campaigns were nearing their finish line, which went a long way to ensuring the success of the grant.

The work I've been doing since I've been in my current role is about creating an intentional, learning organization. By virtue of that charge, the work I'm engaged in is about organizational culture change and about learning not just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and to say we're doing it — it's about action and informing our decision making going forward. And accountability now is more about holding ourselves accountable to people in the communities in which we work and holding one another accountable to our mission.

What has changed at the foundation as we moved to a more strategic approach over the last decade or so is that we have expanded our view of our role. Kresge as a capital challenge grantmaker was an excellent thing. We were brilliant at doing one thing: helping to build libraries, hospitals, and educational institutions. But today we're using a more complete toolkit of philanthropic resources. And that means we are table-setting, we're bringing actors together from disparate fields, from the edges of practice and at the neighborhood level, and saying, "How about it? What do you think you can create together?"

We're also bringing different forms of capital to the table and saying, "How can we remove some of the risk associated with this work? Can we blend different forms of capital to get to the root of what people and communities are saying are their most pressing challenges? And how can we put learning, evaluation, and research to better use?" They’re all tools in our toolkit. By being intentional about using learning and evaluation to inform a more strategic approach to philanthropy, we are committing to doing all the things that philanthropy can and should be doing to drive change.

When Sebastian S. Kresge started the Kresge Foundation in 1924, his directive as to what it should do was really broad: promote human progress. Today, it is about expanding opportunity for low-income people in cities and doing it with an equity lens. And in 2024, the year of our centennial, we'll be asking ourselves, "How did we do? What can we point to that shows the distance we have traveled as an organization in expanding opportunity for low-income people in America's cities? Have we really done it with an equity lens? What is the path we want to chart institutionally as we look beyond 2024." Learning and evaluation are a really important part of that conversation, in that they help us hear the story, give us space to be more reflective, and enable us to look across different bodies of work and imagine the future we are trying to shape and contribute to.

PND: From an evaluation and learning perspective, what are the primary challenges of the foundation's equity work?

CR: Positing that we need to do that work through an equity lens has not been the issue, though that most certainly is not the case across the philanthropic sector. But for Kresge, bringing an equity lens to our practice has been a bridge. It resonates with other grantmakers and helps us come together and say, "Okay, what is it that we really need to learn?"

We try to incorporate the principles of equitable evaluation in whatever we’re working on. Evaluation in service of equity is about asking questions that get to root causes. It's about participant orientation and ownership, and also about ensuring that the work is multiculturally valid.

We do not have it all figured out. It's a challenge. As a sector, philanthropy has been able to work in ways that are not about evaluation in service of a bigger goal; we've been allowed to make evaluation about ourselves. But that is changing. And one thing adopting an equity frame means is that the many consultants we work with as evaluators have a long way to go to meet our goals and aspirations. What do I mean by that? We need more people who bring an equity lens to evaluative thinking, work, and consulting. In some ways, we've created that challenge for ourselves because in the past we did not ask for that kind of skill set. But we need more examples, and we need more of our peers to come forward and say, "This is what we’re trying to do and model." There is definitely a sense of urgency around the challenge within the foundation.

PND: How does Kresge apply an equity lens to its environmental and climate resilience work?

CR: Lois DeBacker, the managing director of our Environment program and a person who has spent much of her career working in philanthropy on climate issues, often says that the climate question is everybody's question. Not so long ago, the foundation's Environment program employed an adaptation and mitigation frame, but when the foundation rolled out its urban opportunity framework, the program had to re-situate itself within that frame. So, today, our work in this area is about resilience, although there is still space for adaptation and mitigation.

For example, in the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative, which is about centering people in their communities, one of the cities is Miami, where some neighborhoods are affected by flooding even on sunny days when so-called king tides are an issue. We're working with Catalyst Miami, a human services organization that has seen the effects of climate change on a regular basis, to bring together people who are most affected by the problem and have them help solve it along with government and business and community-based groups. That work is also pushing us into areas like public health and to say that climate change is a legitimate public health concern.

PND: You were a program officer in the foundation's Education program and, before that, ran an education nonprofit in New York City. What changes have you seen in the education field with regard to equity over the past decade? Are we making progress, and will we be able to sustain it?

CR: For me, the question about equity and education is largely about the narrative about who education — especially higher education — is for. I refer to it as education for liberation, by which I mean the freedom to think, to imagine, to dream, to wonder, to be curious, to hear oneself in the next person. I think that's the biggest gift education can give us.

Fewer than 60 percent of Americans — and this includes folks in states that are doing pretty well — have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential. And I think the narrative around who higher education is for and what is supposed to happen when you get to college or university has shifted. Part of that shift is thanks to philanthropy, and a big part of the credit belongs to the Obama administration, particularly Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign. Today, many colleges and universities are making student success their number-one priority. So, are we making progress? Yes, definitely, but we still have a long way to go.

What keeps me up at night is the continued segmentation in higher education that we see. By that I mean we have made it okay for people in this country who do not come from wealth or affluence — first-generation Americans, members of low-income households — to attend institutions that institutions that have the least resources and are asked to do the most for their students. And their social and economic mobility later in life often looks very different than it does for students from affluent families who attend elite institutions.

PND: These are challenging times for people working to advance a progressive social or environ­mental agenda. Do you ever find yourself getting dis­couraged? And what do you tell the people, both inside the foundation and your grantees, to keep them from getting discouraged?

CR: Last year, I was able to attend a fiftieth commemoration of Martin Luther King's assassination. I was grateful and moved to be sitting outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and to hear from folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and faith leaders from different religions and faith traditions. And part of what stood out for me was how young so many of those civil rights warriors in the 1960s were at the time. As a person who comes from a faith tradition, it reminded me of why I do what I do.

I think about my grandmother, who had an eighth-grade education. She lived well into her nineties, and she used to say that the race is not won by the swiftest or the strongest but by the one who holds on.

It's discouraging to see that our urban public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the years after Brown v. Board of Education became law. It's a reminder for me that our work is both about today and about the past. The freedom struggle we are in is much bigger than the current moment. It is a movement that has unfolded over decades and continues to unfold, and we need to do our best to contribute to it what we can. The struggle is much bigger than we are.

In my role at the foundation, I recognize the importance of cultivating a radical social imagination. We have to attend to that sense of possibility, we have to let ourselves be curious, we have to be free to dream. I think john a. powell, who leads the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, is brilliant at cultivating and expressing a radical social imagination. Not only in the way that he describes othering and belonging for the many of us yearning to truly see ourselves, but in the way he brings his team together with truly inspiring people every two years for the Othering and Belonging Conference. The conference is a great example, for me, of what I mean when I say, "What does radical social imagination look like? Who are the best and brightest thinkers out there who can give us an answer and show us how to dream and imagine? What are the lessons we need to learn and share with others?"

There are times when I think rage and anger are important. Sometimes we have to call upon those feelings and take that energy to the streets. Sometimes we have to pick up pen and paper and write. Other times, it's a combination. But we owe it to ourselves to breathe through the work, to integrate those lessons into our own work, and to take to heart the charge that previous generations of leaders and activists put out there for us. As Martin Luther King said, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

— Matt Sinclair

Museums Should Lead in Socially Responsible Investing

September 11, 2019

Plant-Growing-In-Savings-CoinsMuseums and galleries all over the world have been grabbing headlines lately as a result of controversies over the source of funding from donors and trustees.

Artists and members of the public have objected to sponsorship from companies and individuals linked to the sale of opioids, tobacco, fossil fuels, private prisons, or the manufacture of tear gas. But the outcry overlooks a bigger opportunity for endowed cultural institutions to signal their values: how they invest.

The financial investments of four museums that have been criticized — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art — total more than $6 billion. Turning down a few million dollars in individual donations because of where the money comes from might feel good. But it ignores how these institutions invest the billions of dollars they already control.

Cultural institutions generally invest in public equities. It is reasonable to assume at least a portion of their public equity allocation is in an index fund, such as the S&P 500, which includes the very same types of companies — tobacco, weapons manufacturing, and fossil fuels — that are objected to in connection with controversial donors.

Yet there are hundreds of alternative vehicles that could allow for values-driven investing — including index funds such as the MSCI KLD 400 Social index and the S&P 500 ESG index. These exclude companies that produce negative social and environmental impacts. Then there are exchange-traded funds aligned with issues of race and social justice, gender equity, alternative energy production, and the UN sustainable development goals. In fact, in the U.S., $12 trillion is currently invested for positive environmental and social impact through funds such as these — one-quarter of all assets under management. So why aren't cultural institutions investing in these opportunities?

Mention the topic of socially responsible investing and people often ask whether investors sacrifice financial returns when they introduce factors such as environmental stewardship and good governance into investment decision making. The answer is no.

In fact there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that socially responsible investments outperform conventional ones. Wealth advisers such as Perella Weinberg and impact investors as diverse as the state of North Carolina and the Russell Family Foundation are sharing their evidence and portfolio experience to prove it.

Cultural institutions should be at the forefront of socially responsible investing, and this is where their boards can help. So far, it is small arts organizations that are leading the way. Over the past few months, Building for the Arts and Creative Capital each invested in the NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund, the first impact investment vehicle targeting low-income communities. And in June, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation committed its entire $1 million endowment to an impact investment strategy focused on promoting racial and social justice and economic opportunity in the arts.

These three organizations see their investment portfolios as another tool to advance their mission. Larger operations such as the Ford Foundation, the Heron Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund have also demonstrated how to align the endowment of a nonprofit institution with its values.

Science and natural history museums including the Field Museum and the American Museum of Natural History have divested from fossil fuels in alignment with their stance on climate change. The time has come for our largest cultural institutions to demonstrate similar leadership.

Let's bring the best of Wall Street and Museum Mile together.

Headshot_laura_callananLaura Callanan is founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab and former senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Maxwell Anderson also contributed to this article, which originally appeared in the Financial Times and is republished here with permission.

ADA and Web Accessibility Guidelines for Nonprofit Websites in 2019

September 10, 2019

Ninth_circuit_court

Signed into law in 1990, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and is aimed at making all public spaces inclusive and accessible to everyone. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 later clarified the "definition of 'disability' to ensure that [it] would be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis."

Let's take a look at how the ADA has affected websites in recent years, as well as what compliance entails for nonprofit organizations.

Until recently, organizations with websites were encouraged to comply with established Web accessibility standards, although compliance is not mandatory. The details of compliance were a hot topic of discussion as recently as June 5, 2018, within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a private organization that recently released updated guidelines for its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

The primary goal of WAI is to make the Internet a place where anyone can get involved "regardless of cognitive, neurological, visual, speech, physical, or auditory disabilities they may be burdened with." The guidelines developed by the initiative — with the help of disability organizations, government resources, and research labs — are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the latest version of which is WCAG 2.1.

A Top-Down View of What WCAG Compliance Entails

Adoption of WCAG includes providing text options for non-text content, clear titles for Web pages, "disability-considerate colors," and straightforward site structure so that people with focus-related disorders can navigate the site. It's worth noting that many websites were already compliant with the guidelines.

WCAG 2.0 outlined three additional levels of compliance. From low to high: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Compliance at the lower levels is independent of compliance at the highest level, and WCAG does not recommend making AAA compliance a general policy requirement — for the simple reason that not all content can be modified to satisfy the criteria.

WCAG 2.1 builds on WCAG 2.0 guidelines and includes seventeen new criteria related to:

  • technological advances in mobile devices
  • visual disabilities such as color blindness and low vision
  • learning and cognitive disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or age-related cognitive decline

WCAG 2.1 added five new success criteria to Level A, seven to Level AA, and another five to Level AAA. It's recommended that WCAG 2.0-compliant sites review WCAG 2.1 and make adjustments where possible to ensure that the site remains compliant with the latest guidelines. Though some of these new criteria require fairly serious programming knowledge, others involve simple formatting changes that can be performed with basic text editing tools.

An example of a text-related addition to Level AA is Success Criterion 1.4.12. Intended to ensure that readers "can override author specified text spacing to improve their reading experience without any loss of content or functionality," the criterion details the minimum amount of available adjustments for line height (line spacing), spacing after paragraphs, letter spacing (tracking), and word spacing. An example of non-compliance with the spec would be if a portion of text were to get cut off or become no longer visible when the page was enlarged.

As of July 24, 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had not yet adopted WCAG 2.0 as the standard for the private sector, despite numerous private and governmental plaintiffs urging the government to make Level AA WCAG 2.0 compliance the standard for website accessibility.

ADA and the Ninth Circuit: The Most Recent Case With Big Implications

Since the inception of the ADA, numerous claims of inaccessibility have been brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Although many of the rulings against websites and the companies that operate them eventually are overturned, the process is time-consuming and costly, both financially and in terms of public sentiment.

It's been especially tricky since DOJ — after nearly eight years of review — decided to withdraw its proposed ADA rulemaking, leaving all ADA-related decisions up to the discretion of Ninth Circuit courts. The department's reasoning was based on the general sentiment that waiting for a DOJ ruling would cause plaintiffs "undue delay" and that "courts are perfectly capable of interpreting the meaning [of] 'equal' and 'effective.'"

Indeed, the Ninth Circuit court decision in Robels v. Domino’s Pizza was a boon for ADA website accessibility suits. After a California district court initially dismissed the case, stating that company websites cannot be deemed to have violated the ADA before the DOJ provides specific guidelines, the case was taken up by the Ninth Circuit for the previously stated reasons regarding "undue delay."

While the Ninth Circuit didn't rule that failure to comply with WCAG necessarily violates the ADA, its ruling did state that "the district court can order compliance with WCAG 2.0 as an equitable remedy, if after discovery, the website and app fail to satisfy the ADA." The Ninth Circuit does hold that covered sites be granted "maximum flexibility" in terms of meeting the requirements. Practically speaking, this means that any ADA-covered website could be ordered to become WCAG-compliant.

How Does This Affect Nonprofits?

Because courts cannot agree on whether a public accommodation refers only to a physical location, cases like Robels v. Domino's Pizza could mean increased risk for nonprofit websites. In fact, some courts deem websites to be public accommodations, even if they are not associated with an actual physical location. Until DOJ provides detailed guidelines, it seems these matters will be left entirely to the discretion of Ninth Circuit courts.

Although it's not technically required that nonprofits fully conform to WCAG guidelines to receive a Level AAA rating, investment in achieving Level AA compliance has considerable potential for saving organizations time and legal fees. This is especially true while we continue to wait on DOJ to specify legal requirements for ADA-covered organizations, companies, and websites. For the typical nonprofit, reaching the broadest possible audience is key to advancing its mission and goals. And the best way to do that is to ensure that anyone and everyone is able to actively engage with your content online.

Headshort_eric_van_buskirk_philantopicEric Van Buskirk is the publisher of Dopa, a W3C accessible website focused on mental health and psychological disorders. An expert on Internet search engines, he also oversaw some of the largest big-data studies on how Google ranks webpages.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2019)

September 06, 2019

Labor Day has come and gone, the days are getting shorter, and you're probably feeling the urge for goin'. Before you do, check out some of the posts that were popular with our readers in August. Enjoy!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at Mitch.Nauufts@Candid.org.

Charitable Gift or Bribe? Lori Loughlin's Legal Case Rests on Dubious Claim

September 04, 2019

USC_gateLast week, Lori Loughlin, the actress, and her husband, the designer Mossimo Giannulli, may have provided a glimpse of their defense strategy when they appear in court in October in connection with payments they made, say prosecutors, to help their daughters gain entrance to the University of Southern California. Their likely argument: the money wasn't a bribe; it was an act of altruism.

Loughlin's case is part of a larger — and by now, infamous — scandal involving thirty-four parents who were charged last March with paying money to a third party to "facilitate" their kids' admission to elite universities. Fifteen of those parents have pleaded guilty to fraud. One of them, actress Felicity Huffman, has pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to have her daughter's SAT exam score artificially inflated and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 13. Unlike Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli, who parted with $500,000, are planning to fight it out in court.

Loughlin's attorney, William Trach of Latham & Watkins, contends the money the government calls a bribe was really a charitable donation. "Checks were made out to USC Athletics and to a fund at USC," he says. "Those checks were cashed by USC." Trach’s logic, apparently: the money was sent to a tax-exempt charitable organization, and the organization put the money into its bank account; therefore, it was a charitable contribution. (Yes, the University of Southern California, with its $5.5 billion endowment, is a tax-exempt charitable organization.)

Money also traveled through another charity, Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), which was established by William "Rick" Singer, the man behind the admissions scheme. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and is now cooperating with prosecutors. We will likely hear more about KWF during the trial, but one question the prosecution should ask is how much Loughlin and her husband donated to entities not caught up in the scandal. Since their lawyer contends that their donations — that's plural — were in support of opportunities for underprivileged students, it might be helpful to know if the couple supported other, similar causes. In fact, it would provide context for their claim of generosity to know how charitable in general the couple has been over the years.

Clearly, a pure heart isn't the only thing driving many charitable contributions. Buildings and programs, for example, are often named for donors, a public recognition of their generosity. And there's no problem with that — not from the perspective of the IRS or the public. But where do we draw the line between a public accolade and a more tangible quid pro quo — a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. If the defense goes down the road of altruism, it will have to explain both the timing of the payment — at this point it's difficult to call it a gift — and the quo relative to the quid.

And what of Key Worldwide Foundation? Its mission statement is almost laughable in the context of the scandal: its website says the organization "endeavors to provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students, not only attainable but realistic. With programs that are designed to assist young people in everyday situations, and educational situations, we hope to open new avenues of educational access to students that would normally have no access to these programs." One might wonder how wealthy celebrities come to see their children as underprivileged. If Laughlin and Giannulli's response is that payments to KWF were meant to help others, that would mean it was mere coincidence that their daughters were accepted to USC. (And bear in mind they were accepted as recruits to one of the top Division 1 women's crew teams in the United States — even though they had no rowing experience.)

Then there's this: in addition to the colleges and universities involved in the scandal, the recipients listed on KWF's 2015 and 2016 IRS information returns include a nonprofit called Friends of Cambodia (FoC). On those forms, KWF claimed it donated $19,200 in 2015 and $18,550 in 2016 to FoC. But NBC’s Bay Area affiliate KNTV spoke to Elia and Halimah Van Tuyl, the couple who founded FoC, who told the station they were "stunned" to learn their organization is listed on KWF's tax returns; the VanTuyls further claimed they had never heard of KWF or received any money from it. "There's no record of any of these donations," Halimah Van Tuyl said. "I would have noticed — we're not that big," added Elia Van Tuyl.

At this moment, it appears that in the gift vs. bribe argument, the evidence in support of the latter is stronger. And for reasons beyond bringing a group of parents trying to game the system to justice, it's important to know the difference. Philanthropy has entered an era of unprecedented scrutiny at the same time that nonprofits increasingly are being asked to demonstrate their impact. Our sector must be vigilant; we cannot afford to let charlatans, without charitable motive, falsely define the narrative of what doing good really means.  

Doug-White-headshot_optDoug White is an advisor to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists and an author and a teacher. His most recent book, to be published in October, is Wounded Charity: Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project Crisis.

What's New at Candid (August 2019)

September 03, 2019

Candid logoAlthough it’s still officially summer, we've been busy here at Candid, releasing new research, continuing the consolidation of our regional offices, expanding our Funding Information Network, and more. If there's anything you'd like me to cover in these monthly updates, shoot me an email. My colleagues and I are anxious to hear your thoughts!

Project Highlights

  • In the wake of tragic mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio and newly urgent conversations about gun control and the Second Amendment, understanding the full impact of gun violence in America is imperative. Our IssueLab colleagues have created a Gun Violence Special Collection that brings together evidence and insights from nonprofits, foundations, and research organizations working to understand that impact. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment to a spending bill that banned the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from using any of its budget for gun violence research, leading to a dearth of data that could help inform the gun control debate. In the more than twenty years since, the social sector has produced over two hundred reports that explore policy models, provide data and statistics, and examine a range of sub-topics. Feel free to reach out to the IssueLab team if you have questions about the resources in the collection.
  • The surge in fires in the Amazon basin is a fresh reminder of the destructive impact that humans can have on ecosystems that are critical to life on the planet. Philanthropy continues to support efforts to ensure the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, including the rights of Indigenous, marginalized, or other communities to the unspoiled natural resources that enable their survival; the right of Indigenous and marginalized communities to share in and determine the distribution of lands, territories, and resources; and the protection of these natural resources from destruction, overdevelopment, and/or pollution. To learn more about what funders are doing to support the environmental and resource rights of Indigenous and marginalized communities, check out this dashboard courtesy of the Advancing Human Rights initiative, a collaboration between Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network, in partnership with Ariadne: European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights and Prospera: International Network of Women's Funds.
  • Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network also have released a report that details foundation grantmaking for human rights globally. Conducted in partnership with Ariadne and Prospera, Advancing Human Rights: 2016 Key Findings highlights the scale and scope of funding for human rights, and sheds light on tough questions such as: Where is the money going? What are the gaps? And who is doing what?
  • CF Insights, a service of Candid, has launched the 2018 Columbus Survey Results Dashboard — the most up-to-date, comprehensive data set focused on financial trends and operational activity among community foundations in the United States. The data and findings provided in the dashboard are based on FY2018 survey responses provided by 251 community foundations and are supplemented by publicly available data.
  • Be sure to check out the new infographic on Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy that looks what foundations to combat the decline in local journalism.

You can learn more about other projects we’ve been working on in the Gain Knowledge section of our website.

Thought Leadership Highlights

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Candid in the News

For more coverage of Candid in the news, visit our press room.

Services Spotlight

Data Spotlight

  • Funding by a matched subset of grantmakers for environmental and resource rights grew by 39 percent in 2016, a sign of growing international pressure to address the challenge of climate change.
  • We completed a number of custom data searches for the University of New South Wales.
  • New data sharing partners include: Alzheimer's Disease Research Foundation, American Friends Service Committee, the Cape Cod Foundation, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, the Goizueta Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Libra Foundation, the New Coast Foundation, the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, the Washington Square Health Foundation, the Wettenhall Environment Trust, and the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Candid.

Beyond the Dollar: Catalytic Philanthropy = Funds + Leverage

September 02, 2019

Coins-and-seedlingsFor as long as I have been working in the philanthropy field, New Zealand has been regarded domestically, and in international polling, as one of the most generous countries in the world. Based on comprehensive data captured in the Gallup World Poll for the period 2013-2017, last year's CAF World Giving Index placed New Zealand third on the list of most generous countries, behind Indonesia and Australia and ahead of the United States (fourth place) and the United Kingdom (sixth).

Each country is ranked for three behaviors:

  • Helping a stranger
  • Donating money
  • Volunteering time

Historically, these have been the ways we think about charity and philanthropy: giving by way of money or service, either in an immediate sense or, using a vehicle such as a charitable trust, donating money to specific causes or recipients in perpetuity.

Catalytic philanthropy is different, both more sophisticated and more focused on collaboration and measurement of return on investment, and is based on maximizing positive impact. Here is what it means for people and organizations in New Zealand:

1. Catalytic philanthropy represents a new approach to an age-old practice. The term describes the use of influence and leadership to leverage every dollar to the max. For instance, an organization with a corporate social responsibility program (say, an annual campaign in support of a bold-name charity) could be more strategic about increasing the impact of its giving by engaging with government and pressuring it to invest more in the charity’s area of interest, or by working harder with partners to garner more support for the charity.

In 2019, the scale of social need and urgency of the global climate crisis demands that we leverage our ability to give in much more practical and commercial ways than we have before. This is where catalytic philanthropy comes in: going beyond money to bring to bear every resource and partnership available to advance a cause or address a problem.

2. Silos are so twentieth century. The traditional model of philanthropy was adapted from the conduct of dynastic families like the Fords and Rockefellers in the early twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, the transparency demanded of charitable activity, combined with clear-cut social and environment concerns, gives the advantage to philanthropists and organizations that can think laterally and find inventive ways to extend their reach.

An example of this model is Foundation North, which employs what it calls "venture philanthropy" to engage other interested organizations and communities in finding solutions to complex social challenges. No longer is a single charity "responsible" for raising cancer awareness or cleaning the Hauraki Gulf; these days, we understand that we’re all in it together and that answers and funding have to be leveraged from a range of players to create long-term and sustainable impact.

Innovation is key to continually improving the impact philanthropy has on its intended cause or recipient. Under our founder Andrew Barnes' leadership, Perpetual Guardian established its own foundation, enabling donors, including those with more modest resources, to amplify the impact of their giving.

3. Money isn’t the be-all. Again, the old model was all about money: the more, the better. What we now understand through complex analyses such as those provided by JBWere is that the best social impact is not necessarily tied to the amount of money dedicated to a cause or issue but how adroitly it is used and tied to strong, measurable results. Catalytic philanthropy posits that the smartest giving is not the "biggest" giving; it’s the most strategic. And the most promising opportunity for today’s high-net-worth individuals is to build on the established charitable trust/foundation model to structure their giving in a highly strategic way.

4. Traditional trusts are becoming more sophisticated about ROI. New Zealand has over twenty-seven thousand registered charitable trusts, many of them set up decades ago by settlers who have since passed. In our business, we are starting to guide interested trustees toward a catalytic philanthropy model that follows the terms of the trust deed while taking advantage of progressive, collaborative developments in the sector.

An interesting impact investing example of this is the Stout Trust, which is well known for its work in the arts, heritage, and environment fields. This year, the trust will distribute $1.2 million to related causes, including predator-free work. Going beyond straightforward grant awards to investments that intentionally seek social or environmental impact alongside financial returns has become an increasingly important tool for trusts and foundations.

Impact investing has already demonstrated an impressive ability to harness the collective power of philanthropy, the private sector, and government at all levels. A prime example from the U.S. is the Detroit Home Mortgage Program, a collaborative effort between the Kresge and Ford foundations, a cadre of local banks, the City of Detroit (which was hard hit by the great financial collapse and the subsequent near-collapse of the U.S. auto industry), and the state of Michigan. The program is reviving the city’s decimated single-family housing market through a mix of grants, loans, and loan guarantees that ultimately enable buyers to purchase and renovate once-vacant homes.

Here in New Zealand, the NEXT Foundation established the Tomorrow Accord with the Government’s Department of Conservation. NEXT is a spend-down philanthropic fund of $100 million, and with the accord it is front-footing investment into pest eradication, with DoC agreeing to continue to fund those efforts in the future.

5. Businesses can define philanthropy in creative ways. Returning to the idea of creating a sphere of influence, business executives should be thinking outside the box in terms of creating social value alongside their immediate financial goals. Here at Perpetual Guardian we are working to advance the idea of a four-day, productivity-focused, reduced-hour model of work, which we regard as more suited to the demands of the twenty-first century workplace and lifestyle. In addition, we require each staff member to use, once a quarter, one of their personal days to engage in charitable or volunteer work. We’re also analyzing how staff can volunteer in ways that help them achieve even more for New Zealand communities.

Our efforts in this regard are about being strategic as an organization and leveraging the influence we have to increase our impact. There are many ways to do this, procurement being an obvious one; it is now commonplace for public- and private-sector organizations to seek out "green" options in technology, transport, and other services, which incentivizes service providers to think about and invest in climate-friendly initiatives.

Ultimately, catalytic philanthropy is a more comprehensive, encompassing, and sophisticated approach to a practice people have been engaging in for centuries. As experts in the field, we are enabling clients and communities at large to use resources in creative ways and to look beyond money to a more astute calculation of ROI – one that leverages the combined efforts of people and organizations to do the maximum amount of good at all levels of society.

Headshot_Liz GibbsLiz Gibbs is head of philanthropy at Perpetual Guardian. Over a career spanning twenty-five years, she has served as chief executive of Save the Children New Zealand and Philanthropy New Zealand and as head of foundation for Te Papa Tongarewa. Her current governance roles include deputy-chair of UNICEF New Zealand and board member at the Mediaworks Foundation.

5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

PND: Has the current political climate in America changed the fund's priorities or the way it approaches its work?

KS: My co-founders and I established Pillars Fund because we observed that American Muslim communities were underresourced while being disproportionately targeted by harmful policies and widespread stereotyping that was feeding and reinforcing  bigotry and enabling those very policies to take hold in America. Particularly in the years since September 11, our community has been in a constant state of emergency, reacting to and mobilizing against new hate crimes, discriminatory policies, irresponsible news reporting, and biased cultural programming on a daily basis.

All of this work  has been essential to the health of our communities, but we've always known we needed to think beyond to the next twenty to thirty years. How will our communities function then? Are we cultivating the next generation of leaders and cultural producers? This is our focus, and we’ve tried to maintain that focus in the decade since our inception.

That said, the current political climate has changed the reality we're facing. As a young, evolving organization, we've tried to maintain our ability to respond to shifting dynamics. Under the current administration, we've had to contend with family separation and other humanitarian crises caused by the Muslim ban. But we're also looking at ways to support the many Latinx immigrants being rounded up by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and separated from their children, and people whose families have been torn apart by other forms of mass incarceration. Family separation is a grotesque policy that we would stand against no matter who was being impacted, but it’s important to recognize that the U.S. Muslim population includes a vibrant and growing Latinx community. No person is defined by their faith alone, and it's important to recognize how the multiple identities each of us carries impacts our concerns and livelihoods.

PND: In 2018, the fund awarded  $800,000 in grants, most of which were less than $50,000. What's the theory of change behind your focus on awarding relatively modest grants to small and midsize nonprofits?

KS: There are hundreds of organizations working in or alongside Muslim communities in the U.S. Part of what makes Pillars Fund effective is our ability to assess the national landscape and identify where investments can accelerate progress toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. We want to give a boost to  organizations we see as doing pivotal work around the country, and this has required us to spread our resources over a relatively wide field.

Many of the nonprofits we work with are very small, and a grant of $50,000, $25,000, or even $10,000 is incredibly meaningful for organizations that are used to working with one full-time employee, an army of volunteers, or a budget of less than $100,000. A lot of our partner organizations are in the earliest stages of their development, and we can support them as they grow. In many cases, they are the people directly impacted by the issues they're working on. This isn't long-distance charity. In many cases we’re simply supporting them in doing the work they’d already be doing anyway.

In addition to awarding grant dollars, we’re always looking for ways to support our grantees' development through capacity building, which has included technical assistance with digital security, workshops and consultations on how to build their board and how to fundraise, communications support, and so on. This kind of wraparound support is something we’re committed to investing in even further in the years to come.

Pillars is building a community of Muslim grantee-partners, storytellers, and investors who share a broad vision, but each bring unique and important perspectives to our collective work. While I always see us contributing to a wide network of groups, I anticipate that the size of each grant will increase as our fund grows.

PND: Before helping to launch Pillars, you were a program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and were tasked with helping Chicago nonprofits scale their work at the intersection of racial justice, poverty, and education. As the executive director of an organization that partners with much larger national foundations — including the Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, Nathan Cummings, and Open Society foundations — what is the most important lesson you have learned about collaboration?

KS: That's a great question. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is paramount. Everyone has their own interests and priorities, and it's important that you bring your individual mandates to the table when collaborating. This helps you avoid misunderstandings as the work progresses, and ensures that each organization is better positioned to accomplish its goals. Be transparent and communicate regularly to keep your collaboration on track.

I'll add this: the best advice I ever got about marriage is that it’s not really a 50/50 collaboration. Some days it's 90/10, and on others it's 40/60, and so on. Each organization brings its own value to a collaboration, and it doesn't always appear equal. What’s essential is to recognize what each of you brings, and to leverage and honor that contribution.

Kyoko Uchida

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    — Asha Curran, Chief Executive Officer/Co-Founder, GivingTuesday

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